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Quick Look: Firefox 1.0 is End Users’ Dream Machine

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.