Written by Alex Iskold and edited by Richard MacManus. Disclaimer: Alex's company AdaptiveBlue has a product called The blueorganizer, which is a Firefox extension.
Firefox 2.0. We ask the question: will it be enough to make significant ground on IE?In this post, we take a look at what the Firefox team is going to deliver in their upcoming major release:
Current browser market
In just a few years, Firefox has taken the previously dormant browsing market by storm and woken the slumbering giant Microsoft. The Mozilla browser now owns 12-14% of the browser market (the number varies depending on the source - see Wikipedia for more). The Firefox brand is also making an impact, thanks in part to the Spread Firefox campaign. For example, last year Firefox was voted the #7 global brand by brandchannel.com. But the question is still up in the air: will Firefox ever get close to Internet Explorer's market share?
Firefox share, Feb 04-July06; Source e-janco
IE: you snooze, you lose?
A recent post about IE7 on TechCrunch generated a lot of comments complaining about the lack of innovation in the Microsoft product. The timeline between IE6 and IE7 has been unusually long by software standards, so it was reasonable to expect a decent amount of innovation. But despite major improvements and work towards standards support, IE7 looks like a Firefox wannabe.
So one would expect that Firefox has a chance to further cut down IE's lead in the browser market, by introducing further innovation and continuing to improve the browsing user experience. Let's look and see...
User interface improvements
The first thing that stands out in the new Firefox is the more modern, snappier look and feel. Everything is more shinny, more playful and more clickable.
Tabbed browsing was a major browser innovation that Firefox popularized - and in version 2.0 there are further improvements to this. By default, the links now open in a new tab instead of a new window and each tab has its own close button. There is also a new handy way of switching between the tabs, via a pulldown list of all open tabs.
All these improvements are subtle, but good productivity boosters for the user.
Search is probably the most fundamental thing we do online and Firefox excels at integrating search engines in a very smart way. With this new release, Firefox adds the search completion mechanism, which works just like Google complete. As soon as the user starts typing, potential search phrases show up.
This feature has been also added to the Firefox search engine format, allowing each search engine to support it.
RSS Reader integration
Perhaps the most interesting new thing in Firefox 2.0 is the integration of RSS Readers. Since its early days, Firefox has made a commitment to usability and ease of use, which implies integrating all things web right into the browser. Wiring search engines into the browser is one example. In Firefox 2.0 we now see similar integration done with RSS readers.
When a user navigates to a page which contains an RSS feed, the RSS icon in the URL bar lights up. If the user clicks the icon, she is given a choice to subscribe to the feed using either LiveBookmarks or one of the popular online readers like Google Reader. This is a nice and clean integration, but one can't help but wish to have an RSS Reader built right into the browser. Flock, for example, features one of the best RSS Readers and it makes a big difference for end user experience (note: Flock is a R/WW sponsor).
Other notable improvements
There are a number of software improvements in Firefox 2.0. Some of them are:
- Fixed memory leaks and improved performance
- Built-in phishing protection will warn the user of suspicious sites
- Persistent sessions will restore the session after system restart
- Smart spell checking for web forms
- Live Titles and microsummaries help sites convey the latest interesting content
- Improved add-on manager helps the users manage extensions and themes
- Enhanced security and localization support for extensions
The Firefox 2.0 release notes have more details.
Will this be enough?
It might not seem like Firefox 2.0 has a lot of new features, but we think it is a solid release. The team's focus on performance, stability, usablity and security clearly results in a better, faster product - and users will be pleased with that.
However it is also clear that Firefox needs to do more innovation and web integration in order to gain bigger market share. In future we hope to see better bookmarks, better history, a built-in RSS Reader, more productivity features and more smart web integrations. Perhaps with advanced functionality like this, Firefox would make significant ground on IE. What do you think?