You can download Firefox 2 for free, and unlike Internet Explorer 7, Firefox is available on a variety of operating systems: Windows, Mac, and Linux. There are also a wide variety of localized language versions, including Basque and Byelorussian. Again unlike IE 7, Firefox 2 does not require that you shut down antivirus protection nor does it perform a system reboot.
Unlike IE 7, which has reorganized its toolbar, Firefox 2 changes only the look and feel of its buttons. The new shiny-glass look is much more sophisticated, as are the rounded tabs and the hairline borders around the address bar and the search engine box. Missing, however, is Places, a side panel feature we saw briefly in alpha builds; Places organizes bookmarks, RSS feeds, and history in one place, much like IE 7's Favorites Center. The good news is that Places will return in Firefox 3, which is currently under development.
Tabs have long been a part of Firefox. Now, with Firefox 2, you can open any number of tabs, rearrange them, and reopen a previously closed tab using the hot keys Ctrl-Shift-T. With another feature carried over from Firefox 1.5, you can also save active tabs as a bookmark so that you can open the entire set of tabs at a later time. Missing, however, are thumbnail previews of each tab (still available only as an extension).
At the far right of the Firefox toolbar is the search engine box. Firefox 2 now includes suggested search terms from the search engine itself; for instance type fire and Google returns Firefox among other suggestions. Firefox 2 provides several built-in search engines, such as Amazon and eBay--far more than provided by IE 7--with the option to add even more search engines.
Should you decide to remove Firefox, you'll be disappointed. Despite the speed we witnessed upon instigating uninstall, the uninstall feature left behind several folders and far too many registry entries. Thus, if you want to clean out your Firefox completely or you attempt to load Firefox 2 as a clean browser, you'll be stuck with your previous bookmarks and preferences, including extensions, intact.
New in Firefox 2 is session restore; if Windows crashes and you have several tabs open in Firefox at the time, you can now relaunch Firefox with all the tabs intact. We found this feature to be very useful during the course of our tests.
Firefox 2 also gives you the ability to correct your spelling mistakes online, just like using a word processor. This is great for typing blogs or posting to a newsgroup. Common dictionary words are checked, with misspellings identified with a squiggly red line. You can add more words and even include dictionaries available in various languages. Once you have access to inline spell-checking, you won't want to surf the Web without it.