Last November, when I was still a senior at St. X, Firefox 1.0 came out. It was a big deal, because at the time hardly anyone used it, although people were only starting to hear about it from their friends. Since the Tuesday it came out was an X Day, I was down in the Math Tutoring Center for 8th period. I was bored as usual, since no one except Ryan Finan ever needed help with their math during 8th.
So I drew a rather large ad for Firefox on the whiteboard there – I covered the entire thing, actually, with an enormongous logo of Firefox coming out of the box.
Last Tuesday, the Mozilla Corporation – the Mozilla Foundation subsidiary that’s responsible for releasing and marketing Firefox – released version 1.5. You can download it for free. Don’t let the fractional version number increase fool you: this release is every bit as important as the one just over a year ago. I won’t bore you with all the changes under the hood that’ve made my night-job as a web developer so much easier, but here are some features that I know you’ll appreciate:
- Going back and forward is literally a snap. You no longer have to wait for a page to load when you hit the Back button; it just goes right back. And it’s the same for going forward. The nice thing about Firefox’s back and forward functionality is that you don’t lose your e-mail, say, if you accidentally hit the Home button while composing your mail and frantically hit the back button.
- Firefox is known for its ability to keep webpages in tabs, which let you organize your webpages better. 1.5’s twist is that you can now drag your tabs around, to keep related tabs next to each other – a real boon for multitaskers. Previously you had to download a fairly crash-prone extension called miniT(drag+indicator) for the same feature.
- The popup blocker is now more reliable: I’ve been using the Firefox 1.5 alphas, betas, and release candidates for months, and in that time I haven’t seen a single rogue popup, yet I can still click on a link that is supposed to popup a new window, and Firefox won’t get in the way.
- If you’re using the family computer – or if you’ve installed Firefox on a school computer, against that school’s wishes – you’ll appreciate the Clear Private Data option that lets you quickly erase any type of personally-identifying information before you exit, without having to dig through the Options window.
- If you try going to a webpage that doesn’t exist, Firefox will now show elegant error pages (à la Internet Explorer), instead of popping up annoying little error messages.
- The Options dialog has been completely reorganized. While I don’t think the new design overall is that much more useable than the previous one, they have made the Cookies dialog so much easier to use.
- And in case Bill Dirkes is still reading this blog, Firefox now lets web designers use CSS to specify custom cursors (beyond the standard arrow, hand, hourglass, and I-bar cursors) on webpages. It won’t be long before every Xanga mod will abuse this feature, though.
But most importantly, this release features a dead-simple update system: when a new version of Firefox is available (perhaps one that fixes some security-related issues), Firefox will automatically download the patch and give you the option to install it. Note that it’s a patch that the browser downloads: from now on, you won’t have to download a bulky installer every time Mozilla fixes another security bug; just a little patch on the order of kilobytes.
The whole process of downloading, installing, and restarting involves just one click from the user (where Firefox asks you to confirm that you actually want to update) and takes less than a minute. If you have the SessionSaver extension, you can then just pick up where you left off, without losing all your windows and tabs.
That’s why, when I went to cover one of the many whiteboards along my dorm’s first-floor hallway with a tastelessly large ad for Firefox 1.5, I dubbed the new release “the mother of all upgrades.”