With Firefox 2, Mozilla touts security and speed

NASA pitches in with some ideas on tabs for the latest version of the open-source browser. Download Firefox 2

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read
Mozilla officially released Firefox 2 on Tuesday afternoon, adding security features and a new interface.

Firefox 2 was made available for free download at 2:15 p.m. PDT. Mozilla has set up two download sites for the udpate, which it said it has optimized for the expected high volume of traffic, at Getfirefox.com and Mozilla.com/firefox. (Firefox 2 is also available for free via CNET Download.com.)

"The key focus in Firefox 2 is making sure that what we are focusing on is tightness and efficiency--with the ability of turning that browser into exactly what one needs, focusing on security, stability and speed," said Mike Beltzner, who Mozilla describes as its "phenomenologist."

The revamped Firefox includes a new interface theme and more security protection such as built-in phishing protection. It also has session memory, which, when the browser is re-opened, brings back the set of Web pages that were in use when it was last closed. Changes have also been made in the technology to import RSS feeds, which now offers a feed list view with title and first lines. (Click here for the CNET Review.)

The camp in favor of having a "close" button on each tab has won over the majority who argued against them, Beltzner said. Previously, there was one "close" button at the right of the bar. Clicking on this closed only the one last viewed--but it could be difficult to work out which one this was.

"Google did usability studies with eye-tracking tools and determined that people actually look to the tab first, and it would take longer to determine if they had the right tab and were ready to close it," Beltzner said. "NASA Ames recently did cognitive modeling for us on tabs. Not only was the 'close' button on a tab quicker, but people would be more accurate. They also gave us good data on how wide tabs had to be before people clicked on the wrong one."

The NASA results also convinced Mozilla developers that people will inevitably close the wrong tab at some point, no matter what. That led to the creation of an "undo close tab" feature. "It will reopen the tab you just closed, and if you had written anything into a form on the site with that Web tab, it will restore that info as well," Beltzner said.

The new theme for the Firefox 2 interface has a cleaner look, resembling Opera 9, with similar Web feed features, rounded buttons and more opalescence.

The Firefox 2 launch comes just days after Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7, the first update to its browser in almost five years.

"We see the release of IE7 as a great thing. It was in maintenance mode for several years. Our browser and others made people think that the Web browser could do something more for them, and that spurred on new (developments and interest in Web browsers)," Beltzner said.

Unlike IE7, Mozilla's Firefox 2 is available for Windows, Mac and Linux machines.

Early buzz
Buzz surrounding rumors of early access to the final version of Firefox 2 via an FTP to a Mozilla directory link went round the Internet on Monday and Tuesday, as fans and bloggers hoped to get an early look at the free software.

Mozilla earlier asked people not to attempt to download the update from a direct file link, saying that it would not guarantee "that any set of files currently found within its Web site or elsewhere will be the final release."

Mozilla asked that users be kind to the people who donated servers for the launch and wait until the release Tuesday afternoon.

"No, we have. Not. Released. Firefox. 2. Yet," Paul Reid posted on his Mozilla blog on Monday evening and pointed to a list of problems with obtaining an FTP link copy of Firefox 2.

"Digg and Reddit posts linking to direct FTP mirrors could be costing the operators of those mirrors hundreds to thousands of dollars in bandwidth bills, or may cause them to crash by linking directly to them," Reid wrote. "This could cause them to 'un-volunteer' their services as a mirror, making it even harder to obtain Firefox on release days."

"We are asking this as a favor. We are very flattered that people are so excited about Firefox 2, but we don't want to crash machines," Beltzner said.