Firefox 2.0 RC2: The more things stay the same, the more they change

Posted by Scott M. Fulton, III

Mountain View (CA) - As Internet Explorer users continue to become accustomed to some sweeping changes, particularly in the looks department, Firefox users find themselves today living with the repercussions of the argument Firefox supporters have made in the past: that Mozilla.org has upgraded the Web browser about as much as it can be upgraded. With the quiet posting of Beta 2.0 Release Candidate 2 earlier this week - a few weeks behind schedule - testers are noticing some subtle changes, but few radically different environmental changes from the current version 1.5.

The default theme now visible in RC2 of the Firefox 2.0 beta looks just a little more...shall we say, 'Vista-ish?'

This may be a good thing, from a Firefox developer's point of view, although some are noticing a very subtle change to RC2's default theme: The buttons look a little more "Vista-ish" than they did before, taking on a glassy sheen. Long-time users will notice this most readily with regard to open tabs, each of which now contains its own glossy "X" close button by default. Previously, a single close button appeared on the right edge of the tab bar, for closing the active tab.

Microsoft developers, in recent blog postings, credit themselves with this little development, along with the Firefox beta's recent addition of a "List All Tabs" button for paging through tabs when you have too many open on-screen. These features have appeared in public betas for Internet Explorer 7.0, although Firefox users have actually had the option of attaching close buttons to their browsers by virtue of an independently developed, widely distributed add-on.

Whether it's a permanent update remains to be seen, but what's also noticeable right away is that the default theme is now narrower, with less white space between the bookmarks bar and the address bar.

A more sensible location for RSS feed handler selection in Firefox 2.0.

A more sensible location for RSS feed handler selection in Firefox 2.0.

In the functionality department, Firefox's treatment of RSS feeds is getting an upgrade, now that its principal competition now views RSS as a feature as well. In the updated Options dialog box, Feeds is now a category where it belongs. No longer do you have to search through the menu jungle to determine which application you've designated to manage your feeds or your live bookmarks (saved links that update themselves when an RSS feed is updated).

What happened to the "Downloads" category? In an attempt to make the Options box organization somewhat less complex, options in the Downloads group have been moved to the Main category. Here is where you decide where downloaded files get sent. But the Options box no longer treats components of a Web page - such as pictures, media, and audio tracks - as downloaded files. You now determine what handler is responsible for Web page components from the new File Types group within the Content category - which makes much more sense.

The way things are proceeding, Firefox 2.0 could still make its original ship date of late October, but could conceivably slip into November, as testers continue to note some bugs do remain.