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As you might have noticed, the public beta1 of Firefox 2 is available. Since Firefox is my favourite browser, I’ve immediately started to download it and test things out. I was rather curious since the version numbering should indicate that this is a major update. I had my doubts though, since one announced in May already that the Places functionality wouldn’t be available in this release. Places were meant to be a new way of managing favourites and surf history. One could add thumbnails and divide info in chapters. Delaying this feature started a lively discussion whether it shouldn’t be better called FF 1.6 instead. To me, it almost sounds like the competition: announcing goodies that don’t make the deadline.
So what’s left? Let’s find out and install it.

Add-ons are no extensions
The installation as such runs rather smooth and very quick. Firefox 2 installs besides the current installed version so has the choice which one to use. That’s the theory, because after installation the first cold shower – might be welcome with the current type of weather, but not in this case – is that most installed extensions aren’t compatible. When one starts the 1.5 again, one can only use the extensions that are FF2 compatible. For some reason, it shares common things when it comes to extensions. Not my idea of a separate installation. Uninstalling FF 2 doesn’t give solace, so one needs to enable or even install them again if you need to work further with 1.5. It is nearly a must, since most extension builders will only release updated versions when FF 2 becomes a real production version. Btw extensions are called add-ons now and the interface is slightly changed. I guess one will use the term ‘slightly changed’ rather frequently when it comes to end user experience:

  • The tabs have a close icon, borrowed from Opera. One didn’t retain the tab preview thumbnail from Opera though. A pity.
  • Better management of search engines via a manager; something that was already available via an extension. The real stuff still needs to be done via plain coding.
    A nice addition is the ability to auto install a search engine when available. I guess the developer needs to do something first. Need to find that out later.
  • Spell checking. Officially, it’s only available for text area, but it worked (well) too on ordinary input fields
  • Anti-phishing. I still don’t understand why browser builders want to include this feature. They will be always too late. Recently, one even claimed to bypass digipass security, so no protection will ever help. The only way to prevent such things is not to click on things you don’t know. My bank doesn’t know my e-mail address, so if I get a mail asking me to update my data, I know that things are not legit.
  • Micro summaries. Honestly, I don’t see any real use for this. They are a kind of summaries of pages, small enough to fit in a bookmark. These summaries should be updated regularly and according to Mozilla thus ideal for stock exchange and auction monitoring.  Those things are already available in the most of the professional stock exchange sites. For SDN, the only use might be the tracking of the number of active forum users or contributor points. Yet another feature request for the SDN site.  
  • An RSS reader. As mentioned in my earlier Kiai, I prefer a separate application. Unless you want to subscribe to feeds from multiple providers, online RSS readers aren’t much difference from going directly to the site.

 

Developer goodies
Besides the (limited) new things for the end user, there are a lot of additions for the developers:

  • This could be also appear in the end user list, but it’s important for the developer too: FF 2 is faster. So you could put even more client side code in your page. Don’t overdo though, but more on that later
  • Micro summaries. You can opt to create your own from scratch or use a generator
  • Better SVG support, but still a subset of the SVG 1.1 standard and thus proprietary.
  • Search plugins does support OpenSearch and search suggestion via JSON.
  • WHATWG Client-side session and persistent storage. A mouthful for indicating that it enables you to store the state of a DOM object. The default example is that one can store the state of a checkbox and later check if that box was checked or not. Since there is always a fuss on violating privacy and the so called danger of client cookies, I don’t see this as something that will be widely spread. Soon there will be an option to allow users to deactivate it and as with client side cookies, you will not be able to trust on things. Anyway, there is a whole API for it.
  • SAX (Simple API for XML) support
  • Storage, a DB API for SQLlite. Mozilla warns that this API might be change and might even be different in FF3
  • Support for Javascript 1.7. I won’t elaborate too much on this, but here’s a small overview what you can expect:
    • Generators and iterators should be useful for very iterative processes and make things better and easier to implement, certainly for recursive things. It might have its use, but I don’t have the urge to provide things like Fibonacci numbers to the user.
    • Iterators are to my feeling more useful for iterating over data. Instead of using the usual for each statement, you can create an iterator object with your list of values and do more powerful manipulations on that list
    • Array comprehensions let you pre-initialize a new array with range within one command
               a = 1;
               b = 2;
               let (a = a+1, b = b+2) {
                 alert(a+b);
               }
               alert(a+b);

Will result in 6 for the first alert and 3 for the second.
I think is the most interesting thing with JS 1.7

  • Destructuring assignments is a Perl like way of assigning values via a array syntax
           function f() { return [1, 2]; } [a, b] = f(); 
 

Conclusion
It’s rather difficult to determine whether this release really deserves to be called Firefox 2. From the user perspective, there isn’t that much new under the sun. What else can be invented to make a browser more functional, than by adding thing that were already available via extensions? Making it faster is indeed a good improvement which make MIE 6 look like a snail. But for the rest? Oh yes, the scrolling problem in the SDN forums remain. I was in the assumption that this was a FF 1.5 issue, so maybe the SDN admins should have a look at this issue.
From a developer point of view, there are many goodies. The only problem is that those aren’t much employable for the moment. First of all, you need to find a real use for it. Secondly, it is proprietary or only used in this beta version of FF2. I’m sure that other will follow some day. It has to be seen when that’ll happen.
Summing up all things, many people will download and use Firefox 2, but not for the new features. One needs to wait for that.
Btw check this Firefox cheat sheet. It might be not 100% up to date for FF2, but is a great anyway.

 

imageThe World According to SDN. Put yourself on the SND world map and earn 25 points. Spread the wor(l)d!

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  1. Valery Silaev
    One didn’t retain the tab preview thumbnail from Opera though. A pity
    Never missed Opera tabs after foXpose plugin introduction. Just wait while it will be ported to 2.0

    Spell checking. Officially, it’s only available for text area, but it worked (well) too on ordinary input fields
    Cool! Is it possible to use non-English dictionaries?

    Micro summaries… For SDN, the only use might be the tracking of the number of active forum users or contributor points
    I’d prefer to track number of posts to selected forums within given time frame, or number of “fresh” blog comments

    An RSS reader
    Useless, really

    Support for Javascript 1.7
    According to description, this is almost ECMAScript 2. E4X is already here since FF 1.5, so the only thing left is Java-like OOP and namespaces? Or they are already available?

    SAX (Simple API for XML)
    I just wondering about efficiency of SAX in this environment. It is necessary to cross “native host object” <-> “custom JavaScript object” boundary to often. And this is slow in case communications done right. Or we get another set of XPCOM interfaces that requires strict typing from JavaScript side. The first ones were XmlHttpRequest and DOMImplementation in earlier versions of Mozilla.

    WHATWG Client-side session and persistent storage + Storage, a DB API for SQLlite
    Seems to be backfire at http://msdn.microsoft.com/workshop/author/persistence/overview.asp, btw, available for more then 6 years. Wheel reinvention never ends. Anyway, world is not perfect 😉
    Hope this time W3C will accept only one of two options (as opposite to case, when there were 2 contradictory drafts on W3C, one based on IE HTC, second on Mozilla XBL)

    Valery

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