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New Firefox 2.0 Features Line Up For Release

Mozilla developers continue to make progress on the highly anticipated Firefox 2.0 browser.

A second development milestone release is now available for testing, boasting a raft of new features, as the next-generation open source browser races to a final release and late-year showdown with its arch-nemesis Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.

Whereas previously IE may well have been playing catch-up with Firefox in terms of tabs and search, Firefox 2.0, at least at this early development stage, may be playing a little bit of catch-up with IE 7.

Firefox 2.0 alpha 2 actually includes a few changes that have already been instituted in Microsoft's latest Internet Explorer Beta 2 build, which was recently releasedto a wider audience.

Among the most noticeable user aspects of Firefox 2 alpha 2 is that each tab now has a close button. IE7 beta 2 has a close option on each tab as well.

Firefox 2.0 alpha 2 also introduces Amazon's A9 OpenSearch search format approach for the open source browser, which has already been deployed in Microsoft's IE 7 beta 2.

Firefox includes an inline search function as part of its default browser. To date, Apple's Sherlock search format has been the method used.

IE 7 Beta 2 includes an inline search feature as well, though it uses OpenSearch as its format. The battle for space in the inline browser search box is already heating up, as Google has recently levied anti-competitive accusations against Microsoft.

The gist of Google's argument is that Microsoft is unfairly promoting its own MSN Search, since it is the default plug-in for IE 7.

Firefox will continue to support both Sherlock- and OpenSearch-based search engines which will allow for a wider group of search plug-ins than that which IE 7 is able to support. The Firefox beta also includes a search plug-in manager, which allows users to more easily order or remove search engines.

Among the other new features in the Firefox beta is a new add-ons manager intended to improve the user experience of managing both themes, as well as browser extensions.

Browser crashes are no longer a major cause of concern in Firefox, thanks to the new Session Restore feature, which is supposed to automatically restore a browsing session after a crash.

According to the Firefox 2 schedule, alpha 2 is supposed to be feature complete.

But a number of features didn't make it into the release, and an alpha 3 version is now set to pick up the outstanding features, such as safe browsing, which will offer a degree of protection against phishing-related sites.

One key feature that isn't in alpha 2 and won't be alpha 3 is the "Places," which was supposed to make it easier to access and manage history and bookmarks.

Places was actually part of the Alpha 1 release, but was cut due to quality concerns.

When Places was cut, Firefox developer Michael Schroepfer wrote in a mailing list posting that it is a complex feature with the potential to change the way people navigate through their private space of the Web.

"Rather than rush it to market -- we'd prefer to spend the time it takes to get it right," Schroepfer wrote.

The omission of Places from Firefox 2.0 in Schroepfer's view doesn't make Firefox 2.0 any less relevant or innovative.

"We're also confident that the other features and enhancements slated for FF2 will provide a great upgrade for 1.5 users and continue to be a compelling browser choice for new users," Schroepfer wrote.

"Firefox 2 will improve security, tabbed browsing, search, RSS/structured content discovery, performance, and extension support."

"In order words, all the reasons people love Firefox will get demonstrably better in this release."

The next development release of Firefox 2.0, Alpha 3 is now set for a May 25 release.