Not a week after Microsoft Corp released its Internet Explorer 7, the Mozilla organization is set to release Firefox 2, the first major version update to the second-place browser in almost a year.
Firefox 2 will be launched officially tomorrow, but since the build is identical to Release Candidate 3, which came out last Tuesday, you can download it from the Firefox web site today.
While the update is not as huge a leap forward as the transition from IE6 to IE7, there are a handful of visibly new features, many of which can already be found in browser plug-in tools, as well as a number of under-the-hood tune-ups.
From the toolbar world, Firefox now has a built-in spell checker for web forms, more flexible support for subscribing to RSS and Atom feeds, and an improved in-the-chrome search box.
The feed system has been updated to let users add a feed to an external RSS reader such as Google Reader or a web service such as Bloglines. That’s in addition to the ability to add feeds to the browser’s bookmarks, which was in Firefox 1.5.
The search box has been updated to support search suggestions, another import from the toolbar world, which acts like an autocomplete for search terms. Google, Yahoo and Answers.com support this at the moment, though more are likely in future.
According to Mike Beltzner, Mozilla Corp’s phenomenologist, in future the search box could be used to more directly access services. Users could be able to enter two airport codes, for example, and be taken straight to a list of flight prices.
Security, which is one of the factors that is still driving users from IE, perceived to be more vulnerable to attack than Firefox, has also been updated with anti-phishing built into the address bar in much the same way as the new IE7.
Where the two browsers differ is in how they check whether a given URL is a phishing site. IE7’s anti-phishing is turned off by default because it checks the URL live against a Microsoft web service, which has obvious privacy considerations.
Firefox’s is turned on by default, and downloads a blacklist of known phishing URLs roughly every hour. Mozilla decided to use Google’s list of phishing sites as its default, although other anti-phishing firms will be able to build extensions that use their own lists, according to Beltzner.
Despite Microsoft clipping at Firefox’s functionality heels, and the fact that IE still has a massive market share lead, Beltzner reckons the launch of IE7 could be good for Firefox. The idea being that users’ eyes will be opened to the possibility that there’s more to life than IE6.
I still wonder if IE7 would exist if Firefox 1 didn’t exist, Beltzner said. IE was basically in maintenance, and the web had kind of gone into maintenance as a result. The browser stagnated and the web had as well.