The Mozilla Foundation made an updated version of its Firefox Web browser available this week, offering new extension and theme managers, a changed default look and improved migration capabilities, in what it says is an important step in the anticipation of the group's Firefox 1.0 release.
Firefox 0.9, made available by the open-source software project on Monday, builds on the previous release with bug fixes and fine- tuning but doesn't offer any radical changes.
"It's not entirely easy to tell at first what all has happened" said Richard Heck, a Firefox user. However, Heck, who has been using the browser for a little over a year, said that once he began playing around with it he noticed glitches from the previous version had been smoothed out and managing extensions has been notably improved.
One bug fix Heck noted was that previously when he tried to install two extensions back-to-back, it would try to reinstall the one he already installed. That glitch is rectified in 0.9, he said.
The download size for Windows users has also been pared down -- to 4.7M bytes -- although Linux users have a heavier 8.1M byte download. The browser is available for free download at the group's Web site at www.mozilla.org.
A new online help system has been added, and migration from other browsers has been improved because the new version imports data like favorites, history, settings, cookies and passwords from Internet Explorer, the group said.
The release of 0.9 lays some important groundwork in anticipation of the Firefox 1.0 releases, expected in a couple months, according to Bart Decrem, a spokesman for the group.
"We are doing fit and finish work and debugging (on 1.0) so we expect the user experience to be improved but most of the major feature work is now complete," Decrem said.
Given that Firefox is unlikely to undergo any major changes between the 0.9 version and 1.0, Firefox's estimated 3 million users will have to be satisfied with the work the Mozilla Foundation has already put in. Heck, for his part, said that he is happy with the browser, although he'd like to see some of the tabbed browsing extensions included by default, saying that it would make it more user friendly from the start.
However, Decrem said that one of Firefox's greatest features is the ability it gives users to modify and change it through extensions, making it their own.
"We may bring some third-party tabbed browsing extensions back to the browser, but there's no decision yet," he added.
Firefox users will have to wait for 1.0 to see exactly what it has in store. In the meantime, the Mozilla Foundation is preparing to release its Mozilla 1.7 Internet suite, which includes a Web browser, mail client, Internet Relay Chat client and Web page editor, later this week, as well as a new preview release of its stand-alone e-mail application, Thunderbird.
Those will be available by Friday "at the latest," Decrem said.