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They said it couldn't be done, but during the first few months of 2005, the Mozilla Organization's Firefox browser carved a sizable dent in Microsoft Internet Explorer's domination over the desktop Internet browser market, and this new release should bring even more converts. Now courting roughly 10 percent of the browser market with versions that run on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms, Firefox 1.5 continues to make usability and features a cornerstone of its success. Unlike Internet Explorer 6, Firefox 1.5 offers built-in search, tabbed browsing, and an RSS reader. The new features we see in Firefox 1.5 easily best the bells and whistles we've seen within the upcoming release of Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP.
After downloading Firefox 1.5, you'll find that the changes to the interface are subtle. We liked the way you can reorder tabs by simply dragging and dropping them in the order you'd prefer. We also like the search box feature; new to this release is the inclusion of Answers.com in the search bar by default (of course, you can always add other search engines on your own). Want to look up something on the Web? Simply highlight a word or text within a page, then drag and drop it into the search box for an instant search. Most of the changes are beneath the hood, such as improvements to pop-up blocking and better support for Mac OS X. Also new is binary patching, which updates only the sections of code that have changed from version to version, thus automatic updates to the latest version of Firefox are not only possible, but relatively painless (even for dial-up users).
Unfortunately, if you're attached to your current set of Firefox extensions, plug-ins that provide Firefox with additional use, you'll need to update almost all of them. Some extensions written for the current Firefox simply do not work within Firefox 1.5, although Mozilla says it's working to tweak these into shape. Also, as Firefox continues to grow as the default alternative to Internet Explorer, look for more coding flaws to be reported. Of the flaws announced so far, Firefox has had far fewer critical flaws than Internet Explorer, and in general, Mozilla has been quick to patch them, while Microsoft has waited up to three months at times.
The first thing we noticed after installing Firefox 1.5 was its speed--even complex pages, with plenty of Flash and Shockwave content, loaded much faster than the first version of Firefox. New caching technology means hitting the Back button will return previously viewed pages almost instantly. Support options for Firefox 1.5 include extensive online documentation and FAQs, a very active online community forum, newsgroups, online chat, and telephone support hosted by a third party, InfoSpan for $39.95 per incident. We found Mozilla's up-front disclosure of options and costs refreshing; Microsoft's support options for Internet Explorer, for example, are not clear, and costs for telephone support are not disclosed until after you've initiated your call.