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Quick Look: Firefox 1.0 is End Users' Dream Machine

Nov 10, 2004, 19:45 (26 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Yeah, so Firefox 1.0 came out yesterday. Parties were held all over the globe in celebration, pundits walked out of their proprietary caves and blinked in the harsh light of an open source world, and all was happy under the sun.

Because I got up at a ridiculously early hour yesterday, I was able to grab a copy of 1.0 pretty quick and have it up and running before my workday began. Yesterday was my first day of using the full release, and I felt it necessary to add my two cents to the mix of reviews that are sure to innundate us in the days ahead.

But I am not going to go through the whole product to review. There are a couple of reasons for this, the first mainly because there is not much (if any) difference between 1.0 gold and the 1.0 preview releases. I know from reading the release notes that there are some differences, of course, but I want to keep my attention focused on the big-ticket items. So, if you've read a review of any of the PRs, then you should be set to go. Except for John Carroll's review. He just does not seem to get it.

Second, there's a lot of great features that we have seen before. Tabbed browsing? Opera and Konqueror. Themes? Yeah, yeah, seen those, too. Fast browser? Try Galeon, or say hello to Lynx for insanely fast. Want spoofs and zombified computers? Ain't gonna find it here, that's for sure.

Don't get me wrong: put together in Firefox, this is one heavy-duty browser. And coupled with some excellent extensions, this is by far the best browser I have ever used. But while everybody says that, I wanted to highlight an aspect of Firefox that I don't think many have touched upon.

I'm talking about the installer.

This installer is simply one of the best installation routines I have seen on any platform. It's fast, it's robust, and by golly it gets the job done right.

I know, I know, high praise for an installer? C'mon, get a grip, right? But I have to tell you, it's the main reason you are reading this review today. All those other features are great, but they have been scoped out before. What the Firefox team has accomplished with the installer is a thing of understated beauty.

The very pleasant experience began when I first surfed into the Firefox page. The download link went straight to the tarball I needed to run on my Linux machine, which the site had so thoughtfully detected. No going to another page and choosing my platform, then choosing my architecture. One line, one package, go, go, go.

So, I get my tarball, and what do I do next. Well, typically this is where non-Linux users tend to get a little freaked, because they're going to have to start the Terminal app and type some command-line stuff. Some naysayers would hammer this and tell me that this isn't some sort of ultra-cool installation--you have to type. I'd tell them to shut up and sit down, that's the price you pay for having real security on an operating system.

Plus, here's all you need to type:

tar -xzvf firefox-1.0.installer.tar.gz

Oooo... complicated.

Then, you type a couple more commands:

cd firefox-installer

./install

That's it, three lines, and the GUI installer will be rockin' and rollin'. A small price to pay, I should think. And now things really get going.

One of the things (and there are so many) that I am stupid about is whether, when I upgrade an application, I am supposed to uninstall the previous version, entirely delete the directory of the old version, or just leave things the heck alone. Typically release notes will provide the clue but this is not consistent and even more typically, I don't always remember to look at the release notes before starting an installer. Such was the situation I found myself in yesterday.

Not to worry, because the Firefox installer takes impatient folk like me into account. After I used the file browser to point to the destination directory, the installer thoughtfully popped up a dialog asking if I would like to delete the old version of Firefox, and if so, please click "Delete Now."

Whew!

Once that bit of housekeeping is accomplished, files are copied and saved, and things seem to be wrapping up. But then, an ominous looking dialog appeared for me: many of the extentions and themes I was using in the PR version were not compatible with the 1.0. This is due to a perfectly natural lag time between independent developer teams and Firefox's team. But it is a bit daunting to see this big list o' broken things in the installation.

Or is it?

Again, Firefox seems to have thought of all the answers, because it will ask you if you want to see if there are any updated versions of themes and extensions that are compatible. Why, sure, you say. And off it goes, looking for updates. And, when it finds some, it politely asks if you would like to install what it found. Of course, thank you, you say. And blip! off it goes installing said extensions and themes.

Of course, this extensions and themes update may not apply to you. All of your add-ons may be compatible, or you may not have any previous add-ons to contend with. But if you do, and if they need upgrading, this installation feature is just a really nice touch.

And that, I think, is the essence of what makes the entire Firefox package so popular. Yes, it's fast, and yes, it's got some killer features. But above all else, this is an application that goes out of its way to make things easier for the user. If you like Firefox as is, great. But hey, we have these cool add-ons that you can download and install with just a few clicks.

This approach speaks to me of a development and interface team that has put a lot of thought into what end users want. And for that I believe the Firefox team deserves its highest praise.

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