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What Is Firefox
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New Features and the 1.5 Release

Firefox 1.0 was released in November 2004. Since then, there have been supplementary releases, mainly to address security and stability issues. The current official release is 1.0.7. In the meantime, however, work has been continuing on the next major release. That release was to be 1.1, but because of all the new features added, it was deemed worthy to be bumped up to a 1.5 version. Firefox 1.5 Beta 1 was released on September 8, 2005, and Firefox 1.5 final is due in November after further beta releases.



Here are some of the new features to expect in 1.5:

  1. E4X scripting: E4X is EMCAScript for XML, making the handling of XML markup easier for developers.
  2. Three-column layout using CSS: There is now support for the CSS3 multi-column layout module, using the -moz-column-count, -moz-column-width, and -moz-column-gap properties. There is more information at the Mozilla Developer Center, and you can see it in action at Robert O'Callahan's blog.
  3. SVG and the <canvas> tag: Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is an XML syntax for describing two-dimensional graphics, and is now available by default in Firefox. The <canvas> tag brings new possibilities for overlayed and floating content, and is implemented in Mozilla on top of the cross-platform Cairo graphics library. Find out more here.
  4. Dynamic overlays: Chunks of UI can be swapped in and out at runtime, giving developers more options for dynamic content in their extensions.

3 column page layout
Figure 3. Robert O' Callahan's blog using Gecko's CSS3 multi-column support

Some of these features may seem a little abstract for the average browser user, but there are plenty more visible changes since 1.0, too. These include:

  1. The Extension Manager has been revamped to make the process of distributing extensions easier for developers, and has added more flexible install options for users.
  2. Improved usability for live bookmarks (feeds).
  3. Extensive improvements to performance.
  4. A new update system that will allow small "patches," rather than full downloads of Firefox, to be applied for updates.
  5. The Options/Preferences window has been completely reorganized into a new tab format.
  6. You can now sanitize your private data in one swoop (Figure 4), including cookies, history, and and download history.
  7. Tabbed browsing functionality has been extended, including the ability to reorder tabs via drag and drop.

Clear Private Data
Figure 4. Clear sensitive data with one click

It is certainly clear, judging by the new features and the improvements to existing features, that the Firefox development team are not resting on their laurels. Another nice feature in the works is BitTorrent download support, and even though it is being developed by an external developer, it may lay the foundations of an implementation to make it into the Firefox source tree.

The Future of Firefox

What does the future hold for Firefox? It is difficult to predict, because the web environment is changing shape all the time. But Mozilla is well-positioned both to innovate and to respond to users' needs as they arise, and Firefox will be at the forefront. The Mozilla Project as a whole is now paying more attention to the Mozilla as a platform ideal, as evidenced with the continuing development of XULRunner. This is a run-time environment for Mozilla applications, and eventually Firefox will be deployed using it.

Firefox gives choice to users in the web browsing arena. It is cross-platform, free, and standards-based. Expect it to be around for a long time to come. The future is bright, the future is Foxy!

Brian King is an independent consultant who works with web and open source technologies.


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