Mozilla Firefox 2 is a winner, beating Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 on security, features, and overall cool factor.
Mozilla Firefox 2 (formerly known as Bon Echo) builds on the strength and the security demonstrated in Firefox 1.5 by adding several new features. Like Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 2 includes built-in antiphishing, but overall, Firefox 2 is much better than Microsoft Internet Explorer 7. Firefox 2 offers forward-looking features, such as Live Titles, as well as practical here-and-now tools, such as search engine suggestions, session restore, and inline spell-checking. For more details, see our Firefox 2 review.
You can download Firefox 2 for free, and unlike Internet Explorer 7, Firefox is available on a variety of operating systems: Windows, Mac, and Linux. There's also a wide variety of localized language versions, including Basque and Byelorussian. Again unlike IE 7, Firefox 2 does not require that you shut down antivirus protection nor does it perform a system reboot.
Unlike IE 7, which has reorganized its toolbar, Firefox 2 changes only the look and feel of its buttons. The new shiny-glass look is much more sophisticated, as are the rounded tabs and the hairline borders around the address bar and the search engine box. Missing, however, is Places, a side panel feature we saw briefly in alpha builds; Places organizes bookmarks, RSS feeds, and history in one place, much like IE 7's Favorites Center. The good news is that Places will return in Firefox 3, which is currently under development.
Tabs have long been a part of Firefox. Now, with Firefox 2, you can open any number of tabs, rearrange them, and reopen a previously closed tab using the hot keys Ctrl-Shift-T. With another feature carried over from Firefox 1.5, you can save active tabs as a bookmark so that you can open the entire set of tabs at a later time. Still missing, however, are thumbnail previews of each tab (still available only as an extension).
At the far right of the Firefox toolbar is the search engine box. Firefox 2 now includes suggested search terms from the search engine itself; for instance type fire and Google returns Firefox among other suggestions. Firefox 2 provides several built-in search engines, such as Amazon and eBay--far more than provided by IE 7--with the option to add even more search engines.
New in Firefox 2 is session restore; if Windows crashes and you have several tabs open in Firefox at the time, you can now relaunch Firefox with all the tabs intact. We found this feature to be very useful during the course of our tests.
Firefox 2 also gives you the ability to correct your spelling mistakes online, just like using a word processor. This is great for typing blogs or posting to a newsgroup. Common dictionary words are checked, with misspellings identified with a squiggly red line. You can add more words and even include dictionaries available in various languages.
Possibly the coolest new feature is Live Titles, formerly Microsummaries, which allows Web sites to stream updated data to your bookmarks. You can add the Live Titles functionality to the Merriam-Webster dictionary site, for example, and once you've done so, when you bookmark a page, you can choose the Live Title option to display the word of the day in your bookmark. When you drop down the bookmark menu or open the bookmark side panel, you'll see the Merriam-Webster logo followed by the word of the day. For news sites such as the BBC's, you'll see the latest headline. Think of Live Titles as RSS-like feeds for your otherwise static bookmarks.
Security enhancements within Firefox 2 continue. New is a dialog box informing you of cross-domain scripting, a tactic used by criminal hackers to link nonrelated sites to sites you think may be legit. And Mozilla remains very responsive to fixing its vulnerabilities, pushing out updates within a few days of public notice. Microsoft, on the other hand, parses out its vulnerability fixes a little at a time. In the five years since its release, IE 6 has accrued a large deficit, and we see no signs that Microsoft is addressing new vulnerabilities found in IE 7 any faster.
Unfortunately, Firefox 2 (shown at the far right of the image on this page) does not fully support all the standards supported by the W3C organization, so it fails what is called the Acid2 test, a test designed by the Web Standards Project, although Mozilla is working hard toward full compliance. For comparison, of the browsers tested by CNET, only Opera 9 (far left) passed the test; IE 7 (middle) fared the worst, unable to render the page in the correct colors or shapes.
Antiphishing technology within Firefox 2 is good, and the technology has steadily improved throughout the various betas we've seen. We tested Firefox 2 on a fraudulent Bank of America site less than one hour old; the program caught the page immediately. For comparison, IE 7 also flagged the same fraudulent banking site. Most phishing sites are removed after their initial 72 hours of existence. In general, we have found that stand-alone antiphishing filters, such as , perform far better at flagging brand-new phishing sites than antiphishing filters bundled with Internet browsers.