Fx Year In Review


Here we are at the end of 2006! I can’t believe this year is nearly over and thought wouldn’t it be neat to take a look at all the changes to Firefox over the past year? A lot has happened (more then I first realized) with a total of 11 official releases. For each release I’ll discuss the new features/fixes as well as link to security enhancements/fixes for that version. Now before we begin, I have a couple quick clarification notes:

  • Releases are listed in order by which they were released (date), not by their version number. Which is why Firefox 1.5.0.8 will come after Firefox 2.0
  • I have made comments (good or bad) throughout. To separate the comments from content, the comments will be in italics as to avoid confusion.

In January the holidays were over and many people were starting to upgrade to Firefox 1.5. This release was barely a month old having just been released on November 29th, 2005. Firefox 1.5 and was the first major release since Firefox was “born” in November 2004. Technically there were prior versions but they were called Firebird and Phoenix.

Firefox 1.5 included these new features:

  • Automated update. Great for browser updates but extensions and themes you had to manually check or get the Update Notifier extension.
  • Faster browser navigation with improvements to back and forward button performance. Cain’t say I saw a difference.
  • Drag and drop reordering for browser tabs. I love this feature.
  • Improvements to popup blocking. Built-in popup blocking is a very big “selling point” for Firefox. I recall when I use to use Internet Exploiter, I had to run a third-party application to block pop-ups
  • Clear Private Data via menu option or keyboard shortcut. One click or key stroke was a lot easier than having to click multiple buttons. Further, with the clear private data button extension you could have a toolbar button.
  • Answers.com added to search engine list. I so rarely use this engine, but I guess there must have been a demand for this engine or else they bribed Mozilla.
  • Improvements to product usability including descriptive error pages, redesigned options menu, RSS discovery, and “Safe Mode” experience. I had forgotten about the redesigned options menu until I had fired up a Fx 1.0.x build a couple weeks ago. The difference was like night and day! Don’t know what the RSS discover was. Never ran the browser in “safe mode”, so don’t know what that experience was. An interesting change was going from an error pop box to an actual descriptive error page (much like Internet Exploiter has).
  • Better accessibility which included DHTML accessibility and assistive technologies (screen readers). I am not sure how compliant IE6/IE7 is with this technology.
  • Report a broken Web site wizard. I do sorta recall seeing that feature, but never used it. I think it was removed in later versions.
  • Better support for Mac OS X (10.2 and greater) including profile migration from Safari and Mac Internet Explorer. While I am not a Mac user being able to migrate (bring forward bookmarks/favorites and other personal info) from another browser relatively painlessly is another nice “selling point” for Firefox.
  • New support for Web Standards including SVG, CSS 2 and CSS 3, and JavaScript 1.6.
  • Security Fixes

Firefox 1.5.0.1 was released on February 1st. This was the first 1.5 update which added:

  • Improved stability. Stability never seemed to be an issue for me until later builds.
  • Improved support for Mac OS X. I have heard a lot of Mac users are using Firefox.
  • International Domain Name support for Iceland (.is) is now enabled. Remember, Fx has a good chunk of users outside the US & Great Britain.
  • Fixes for several memory leaks. (and) created more
  • Security Fixes

Firefox 1.5.0.2 was the next update and that was not released until April 13th:

  • Universal Binary support for Mac OS X which provides native support for Macintosh with Intel Core processors. Firefox supports the enhancements to performance introduced by the new MacIntel chipsets.
  • Improvements to product stability. Again, never really ran into stability issues.
  • Security Fixes

Firefox 1.5.0.3 was a critical update came out less than a month from the release of 1.5.0.2 on May 2nd. This build fixed the denial of service vulnerability with a single bug fix: Deleted object reference when designMode=”on”. I had always wondered just how bad these Firefox caused DoS attacks really were. May be this was more of a preventive measure to keep this from getting out of hand.

Firefox 1.5.0.4, released on June 1st:

  • Improvements to product stability. Still a lot more stable than Internet Exploiter every was…
  • Security Fixes

Firefox 1.5.0.5 came out on July 27th and added:

  • Added changes for Frisian locale (fy-NL) Language spoken in the north of the Netherlands and Germany.
  • Security Fixes
  • Firefox 1.5.0.6 was quickly released on August 2nd since the previous release caused a problem playing Windows Media content and as I recall embedded Real Player content as well. Unlike MicroSquish, if Mozilla’s update creates a new problem, they will fix it right away.

    Firefox 1.5.0.7, released on September 14th:

    • Improvements to product stability. I think this was when I started noticing memory leak and stability issues. Though my issues were no where as bad as others who systems slowed to crawl as Firefox ate up every last KB of memory..
    • Security Fixes

    Firefox 2.0 came out on October 24th, after several weeks delay. This was the second major release (1.5 was the first) for Firefox, but did not include the much anticipated Places feature. The lack of this feature and in the early stages of development other key features had people questioning why it should be given the 2.0 numbering (some wanted it called Firefox 1.6). Firefox 2 did however bring with it many new and some annoying features:

    • Visual refresh with a new look and feel of the default Firefox theme
    • Inline Spell checking. No more need for the Spellbound Developmental extension!
    • Built in Session-Restore/Crash Recovery. No more need for the SessionSaver extension!
    • Built-in phishing protection. Other then the test sites I have yet to see this feature in action. Could be I don’t visit that many sites that are common targets, nor do I click links in e-mails .
    • Enhanced search capabilities, provided suggestions as you typed your query. Also made for much simpler addition, removal and reordering of search engines. Added search engine notification alert. I was able to add Wikipedia, Bit Torrent and Netvibes with this great feature. Also means I no longer needed the search engine hack extension to remove unwanted search engines.
    • Improved tabbed browsing or as I call it: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!:

      • Links open by default in new tabs instead of new windows. The Good
      • History menu will keep a list of recently closed tabs, and a shortcut lets users quickly re-open an accidentally closed tab. Also good! Since the context menu option only reopens closed tabs one at a time in the order they were closed.
      • Each tab will now have a close tab button. The Bad. Since Firefox 2 has been release my post: Firefox 2.0: Close Tab Buttons has been the most viewed and commented of all my posts. So many people do not like having the button on every tab. I was able to compromise by having my close button on the active tab only. May be in Firefox 3 they will makes this an easier option for users to change.
      • Power users who open more tabs than can fit in a single window will see arrows on the left and right side of the tab strip that let them scroll back and forth between their tabs. The Ugly! I have never liked this feature and was so glad I was able to Disable Tab Overflow. Besides I never have that many tabs open at once anyway!
    • Previewing and subscribing to Web feeds. I don’t use Firefox for my feeds,except for a few live bookmarks. Instead I use Flock
    • Live Titles: When a website offers a microsummary (a regularly updated summary of the most important information on a Web page), users can create a bookmark with a “Live Title”. I have never really had a practical use for this feature. I know CyberNet has designed their blog site to take advantage of this feature, but again I never found a need for it.
    • Improved Add-ons manager, merged the extensions and themes managers into one easy to use manger and added a restart button when installing a new extension or theme. Very nice improvements here, makes things simpler. Also added button to disable extensions instead of having the option hidden in the context menu.
    • JavaScript 1.7
    • New Windows installer: Based on Nullsoft Scriptable Install System, the new Windows installer resolves many long-standing issues. I don’t recall having install issues in the past (say around 1.5.0.5 or earlier), except when I tried to update Fx 1.5.0.7

    Firefox 2 is major improvement in both features as well as fixes over the prior 1.5.0.X builds. If you have yet to upgrade from 1.5.0.9 to 2.0.0.1 I would strongly urge you to do so. Once you do make the upgrade you may want to check out my Firefox 2.0 Tweaks Guide, for a complete listing of all the Firefox 2 tweaks I have covered.

    Firefox 1.5.0.8, was released about 3 weeks after 2.0 on November 7th. This was unusual for Mozilla which will usually release updates for all builds at the same time. Since I had already gone to Firefox 2, I have barely used this version. No new features:

    • Users were being “strongly urged” to upgrade to 2.0 since support would be ending soon for Firefox 1.5.0.x builds.
    • Security Fixes

    Firefox 1.5.0.9 & 2.0.0.1, were both released together on December 19th. Again I updated my 1.5.0.8 (with a lot of difficulties) to this built but have not used it much if any. Also, no new features for 1.5.0.9:

    • Users were still being “strongly urged” to upgrade to 2.0 since support would be ending soon for Firefox 1.5.0.x builds.
    • Many people including myself thought this release would allow users to auto-upgrade from 1.5 to 2.0 since both builds had new releases. However, this was not the case and it almost seems that talk of this feature is none existent now.
    • Security Fixes

    New features in 2.0.0.1:

    • Windows Vista Support: Windows Vista is generally supported with the following caveats. Since I don’t run Vista I had to find out some more information about this from Ryan at CyberNet. It seems this applied more with installing updates and need to run Firefox as an administrator or the updates would “silently fail”. I do not really understand a lot of this since I cain’t run Vista.
    • Security Fixes

    Firefox 3.0a1, the first milestone for the future Firefox 3 was released on December 8th. Note: I am not counting this release in the 11 releases figure above since this was not a “release version” of Firefox. Further, I have not really used this version much other than some brief testing. Firefox 3 is being built on the Gecko 1.9 platform where as Firefox 1.5 was built on the Gecko 1.8.0.X & Firefox 2.0 on the 1.8.1.X platforms. This milestone brings some new changes features:

    • Cairo is now being used as the default graphics library, affecting all graphic and text rendering. This is a new and improved rendering engine, which I suppose means another visual refresh?
    • Cocoa Widgets are now used in OS X builds
    • An updated threading model
    • Changes to how DOM events are dispatched (see bug 234455)
    • Changes to how <object> elements are loaded (see bug 1156)
    • Changes to how web pages are painted
    • New SVG elements and filters, and improved SVG specification compliance

    Some of the changes in Gecko 1.9 Alpha 1 will affect the web and platform compatibility of Gran Paradiso Alpha 1 and Firefox 3 in general:

    • Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows ME are no longer supported platforms. Mozilla says they are following in the steps of MicroSquish which shut-out these old versions of Windows from the new Internet Exploiter 7.
    • OS X 10.2 is no longer supported, and OS X 10.3.9 or higher is recommended.

    Looking Ahead to 2007

    So what’s ahead in 2007? Well, for the first part of 2007 Mozilla will be supporting and producing releases for 3 generations (1.5.0.X, 2.0.0.X and 3.0) of Firefox and may be even start working on Firefox 4.

    • Firefox 1.5.0.10/2.0.0.2: Expected around January 31st. Don’t know much about these builds but I am going to speculate they should have a fix for the Password Manage Vulnerability issues currently affecting both the 1.5.0.X and 2.0.0.X builds. I would have thought 1.5.0.10 would include the option to auto-upgrade to the 2.0.0.2, but that doesn’t look like it is going to happen. As I mentioned earlier, I have not even seen the ‘upgrade’ feature being discussed on mozillaZine any more.
    • Firefox 3.0a2: Is also expected around the end of January. Only a couple items that I am aware of so far in this release. The new about:config warning, Acid 2 compliance and anti-alias (smoother and rounder) corners.
    • Firefox 1.5.0.X Support ends April 24. As per Mozilla’s policy older builds are only supported for six months after the newer build in this case Firefox 2 is released.
    • Firefox 3 is expected to be release late November 2007 at which time the Firefox 2.0.0.X builds will be given their six-month to death (end support) sentence.
    • Firefox 4, is going to based on the Gecko 2 platform which is going to be quite different than the past Geckos. It will also incorporate JavaScript 2.0 or Project Tamarin. As to when work would being on these builds is anyone’s guess at this point. I have searched all over trying to find a Firefox 4 road map (I had hard enough time finding the Firefox 3 road map). My best guesstimate is going to be possibly around the time Mozilla end support on the 1.5.0.X builds. If we follow the same development “pattern” as we have seen with 2.0 (released in November) and 3.0 (estimated release in November), there could be a Firefox 4a1 around the same Firefox 3 is officially released. A finished Firefox 4 product is not expected until late 2008.

    Well, this concludes my Firefox Year In Review. I do have to admit I had a lot of fun (and frustration) doing research on this entry. The research as well as putting together this entry took a lot longer than I was expecting, but that was because I kept finding more information I wanted to read about. I’ve learned some new things tonight and found a couple more Blogs I might want to look into further. If I am still doing the Blog this time next year, I’ll make it a point to come back and revisit this post.

    Finally, I want to thank Ryan & Ashley Wagner for their help and informative posts on the CyberNet Blog and Forum. Ryan has been especially helpful in matters pertaining to Firefox and Windows Vista.


    External Sources/Additional Readings:

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