REVIEW: Mozilla Firefox 6

From statistics freely available on the Web, it’s clear that Mozilla’s Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Google’s Chrome are the most popular browsers today, with Apple’s Safari and Opera “struggling” with just 10% market share between them. But what makes a good browser and does it matter to your business which one you use?

Ultimately, choosing the best browser for your business will depend on a review of various factors, including operating system support and the features most important to your users. Remember, the growing popularity of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud applications means most of the tools and services that they use on a daily basis are delivered through a browser, not the desktop or the operating system.

Here we check out the latest version of Firefox (6.0.2), the most popular open-source Web browser on the planet, which has been working hard for years to push the envelope and provide a fast and intuitive environment for using the Web.

Features

Firefox was actually the first feasible alternative to the ubiquitous Internet Explorer that many Internet users came across, and introduced many to the delights of such features as tabbed browsing and improved security. It was also the first browser to support a wide variety of platforms, including various versions of Windows, OS X, Linux, and unofficially on other operating systems.

Besides its lightweight design which closely resembles Chrome and IE9, the latest version of Firefox sports all the features we’ve come to expect from a modern browser, including tabbed browsing, spelling checking, incremental find, live bookmarking, a download manager, private browsing, location-aware browsing (also known as “geolocation”) and an integrated search system that uses Google by default in most localisations.

On the other hand, this latest version―much like the previous release―doesn’t feature any major new features. This is, of course, the side effect of following a rapid release cycle. While it makes it easier for Mozilla to stick to the schedule, it also makes version numbers insignificant and immaterial. Don’t be surprised if Mozilla takes the Chrome approach and ditches version numbers altogether.

The most significant change to Firefox 6 is that the address bar now highlights the domain of the Web site users are currently browsing―a feature that Chrome and IE9 have had for some time―which is a useful security feature for checking if a URL is questionable.

Start-up time has also been decreased, especially if a user is using Firefox’s Panorama feature (tabs are organised into groups). A new permissions feature allows a user to configure the permissions for a particular Web site to configure such things as acceptance of cookies, location sharing, pop-ups, passwords and data storage.

The site identity blocker has received a minor facelift to make it sleeker and there are also a few behind the scenes improvements such as support for WebSockets, improved Scratchpad, a new Web Developer menu item, and an improved Web Console. Mozilla’s Change Log lists as many as 1,300 changes in Firefox 6. However, almost all of them are bug fixes.

Where Firefox excels however―especially with power users―is the added functionality that can be added through extensions, of which there is a wide selection. Some of the more popular add-ons include ad blockers, bookmarkers, translators, dictionaries, Web developer tools, shooping tools and tons of social networking tools

Summary

The Web browser is the main gateway to nearly everything that a modern user does today and the choice of Web browser is key for both individual users and businesses. And while the push towards better standards support across modern browsers means that most sites and applications will run across the majority of current browser versions, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t key differences among the major players.

Firefox continues to gain popularity because it’s a lightweight, secure and fast browser. What it lacks in the built-in features that Opera offers, it gains in the enthusiastic user base that is constantly creating new add-ons for power users to enjoy. Users looking for a browser that can be heavily customised will almost always turn to Firefox. The downside for businesses, however, is that problems with performance and stability in Firefox can be traced to an issue with an installed extension―which can be written by anyone and can be installed from everywhere.

But when it comes to delivering new features, Firefox 6 disappoints once again. Users running Firefox 5, or even Firefox 4, will already know what to expect and should upgrade immediately―if nothing else, for the security and bug fixes. It’s certainly not the envelope pusher it previously was, but Firefox 6 is still very capable and a good choice for those looking to extend and customise their Web browser.