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Firefox 2 Bon Echo: Hands-on

Crave takes Firefox's second alpha release for a test drive, and is wowed by its session restore, inline spell checking and page search features

While the Mozilla Foundation tweaks the hotly anticipated Firefox 2 Web browser, Crave has been getting its hands dirty by taking the second alpha release for a test drive. Like previous Firefox development code, this release has been named after a provincial park -- Bon Echo in Ontario, Canada. Bon Echo translates as 'Good Echo' and was chosen because its goals echo those of Firefox 1.

On the surface, Firefox alpha 2 looks almost identical to Firefox 1, or Firefox 1.5. As bon an echo as that is, the shallow part of us wanted to see more. When we looked more closely though, there were some subtle differences to be found.

Although you can download a plug-in for Firefox 1.5 to do this, alpha 2 features little Xs at the far right of tabs, making it easy to close them individually. Clicking on links now defaults to opening new tabs instead of new windows. The most useful feature though is the browser's ability to restore your browsing session in the event of a software crash -- the Session Restore feature in Firefox 2 will let you instantly go back to all the sites you were looking at prior to the crash.

Inline spell check
Firefox 2 alpha 2 features a spell check. Any text you type into the text box of an online form will be checked for correctness. Only dictionary words are checked and misspellings are identified with a squiggly red line. Grammar, which includes missing words, will not be checked.

Places was a feature of the original Firefox 2 alpha, but it has been removed from Bon Echo because Mozilla wants more time to perfect it. Places was a handy side panel that allowed you to control bookmarks, RSS subscriptions and browser history in one section of the browser. MozStorage, which lets you execute a search query of your browser history to find pages you may have visited long ago, has also been removed from Bon Echo, but should make a return with the final release.

Firefox has always featured a search box integrated into the top-right corner of the browser, but now it's been given advanced features. You can quickly change your search preferences and Bon Echo will even give you search suggestions. Typing search criteria gives you a drop-down menu of recent choices on Google, so if you've just arrived at a site from a search engine you can continue your search for a specific term with less hassle.

This feature lets a page highlight the most important details it contains for easy identification of relevant facts. For example a weather page could highlight the current forecast. This feature isn't widely supported by Web sites we've visited, but we expect its popularity to improve with time.

RSS reader
The Really Simple Syndication (RSS) subscription process has been given a slight makeover with Bon Echo. Instead of adding a live bookmark, alpha 2 requires you to click a page's RSS icon, and a default RSS reader within Firefox displays the latest headlines from that site -- without the XML code, which can be daunting to new users.

Add-on management
Alpha 2 lets you manage extensions and themes (skins) within a single console for more convenience.

That's pretty much it for this release. Mozilla is likely to include more features with future revisions, including antiphishing technology that makes it harder for hackers to obtain your sensitive information by deception (for example, by pretending to be a bank).

You can download Firefox 2 beta 1 from our Downloads channel. But remember: it's not a final product, so don't blame us if it breaks your PC, burns down your home or causes you to break out in a rash. -RR