Firefox 2 Beta 2

So I finally got time to get myself a copy of Firefox 2 Beta 2 yesterday. There are several high profile changes, but it’s mostly the same browser we know and love. Here are some first impressions:

The most obvious change is the new theme, the “Visual Refresh” as it’s been called. Right now I pretty much hate it. Then again, I’ve hated just about every major visual change at first, so I’ll have to give myself a few weeks to get used to it before I can really say. I do think that the lack of visual indication of mouseover on the toolbar buttons might turn out to be a usability or accessibility problem though.

Part of the new theme is the new tab bar, which looks somewhat different and now has close buttons on each tab (instead of just one in the corner). There’s also a drop down menu in the far right which gives you a list of all open tabs and also (perhaps its more useful feature at this point) prevents you from accidentally closing your last tab when you instinctively click where the old tab close button used to be.

The second most visible change is the automatic spell checking in html text areas (such as this blog post). It’s fast, sooth, and works great. I love it. This is one of those features that we’ve been talking about since before there was a Firefox, so it’s nice to see it finally happen.

I can’t say for sure, but it looks like the loading image placeholder icon is different, and I swear I’m seeing it a lot more than I used to. Maybe it’s a Cairo thing.

The options/preferences dialog is significantly change organizationally, which means that all your favorite options have changed places. This is another one of those features that I really hate right now, but only because I’m used to the way it was before. I’ll have to give the designers the benefit of the doubt here and assume that they thought this through before changing it, and the the new organization will indeed prove to be better in the end.

The extensions and themes have been moves into a single tabbed dialog called “Add-ons” (which is nice) and there is now a “Manage Search Engines” Dialog for search plugins. I’m not quite sure why the search engines can’t be part of the aforementioned add-ons dialog, but at least it’s there.

The go button is back, albeit in a somewhat less intrusive form, but it’s now (as far as I can tell) impossible to remove without killing the entire location bar, so I guess we’ll have to get used to it being there. I always used to take it off, but I do think that usability (especially among less experienced users ) is improved be having it, so I won’t complain too bad. Besides, if I really hate it I’m sure I can kill it in userChrome pretty quickly.

Anyway, there are quite a few more changes (and plenty of things “under the hood” that aren’t so obvious) but those will have to wait for another day. Overall I’d give it an A+, but then again I’m probably a little bit biased. ;]

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