Internet Explorer 7 packs in interface changes, many new features, and plenty of under-the-hood updates. Firefox 2, however, offers no radical changes compared with version 1.5, which came out a year ago. That's the first, and simplest fact. But for Firefox it's a measured step, purposely nonjarring for current users. A built-in antiphishing tool makes its first appearance, but most other changes simply refine many of the same features that are new to IE 7. Version 2 polishes tabbed browsing, newsfeed support, and add-on management. Regrettably, there will still be some sites written specifically for IE that don't look right in Firefox 2. However, users can add a plug-in that will let them view a site in IE to get around the problem; my favorite is IE View. The final version should be available at the same any day now, and existing users of the browser will receive a notice about version 2 once Mozilla has made a minor update to version 1.5 a few weeks after version 2 is out. Microsoft had further to go to bring IE up to par with the competition (IE 6 was released in 2001), and so IE 7 is a more thorough overhaul of its predecessor. The new user interface, with tabbed browsing, integrated searching, and newsfeed support is obvious. Microsoft also added an antiphishing tool and boosted IE 7's security in response to seemingly never-ending IE 6 holes. Over a few months, the company will prod users to get version 7 via Automatic Updates. A final version for Windows Vista will ship with Vista early in 2007. For this story, we evaluated feature-complete release candidates of both browsers, IE7 RC1 and Firefox 2 RC2, prior to their final release.
IE 7's new streamlined look resembles Vista's. The back, forward, and favourites buttons, and the address bar, are all compressed into two rows up top, along with a new search box that can be customised with your choice of search engine. There's no menu row with standard XP options like File, Edit, or View (you can bring it back if you want). There are also welcome new tabs - which can be used to drag and drop for viewing multiple pages within one IE window.
A new session-saver option means when closing the browser, users can click a box to have IE remember open tabs, then open the same ones next time. This small but highly useful feature could gradually make a big difference in your daily browsing. The tabs don't get their own row, however, so they can start to appear somewhat squished if you have many open at once. To navigate, click a small button that shows thumbnail previews of all open tabs on a new, temporary page, and then click one of the thumbnails to activate its tab. Users can also select from all open tabs via a drop-down list accessed via a small button to the left of the tabs. While less obvious, Firefox 2's tab updates are generally a step ahead of IE's. For example, Firefox can be configured to always save the last session for future use; with IE 7 users have to click a box every time. Firefox can also reopen closed tabs via the History menu or by right-clicking an open tab. As in IE's implementation, each Firefox tab has its own closing button. However, Firefox provides no thumbnail previews of open tabs.
Better newsRSS feeds offer a great way to quickly check news and updates from different sites without visiting them all. RSS support is new to IE 7, and upgraded in Firefox 2.
When browsing a page in IE with an associated feed, an icon to the right of the tabs will light up. Click it, and the latest headlines from that feed along with an option to subscribe will appear. Once subscribed, users can check it via the feeds button in the new Favorites Center, where they will also find browsing history. However, there's no way to quickly preview the feed's contents without opening the feed's rendered page in IE, which somewhat defeats the purpose. Microsoft says that it deliberately designed IE's feed support to be barebones because it is meant as a platform for future RSS reader applications.