Firefox 2.0 – Worth an upgrade?

I’ve been tinkering with Firefox 2.0 since its release last week, aiming to evaluate the new release and perhaps make some recommendations about whether or not to upgrade. Here’s my summary of findings.

  • The memory leak problem in 1.x has not been fixed, but it seems to have improved a little. Do not upgrade to 2.0 expecting this problem to have gone away. It is an amazingly persistent flaw, present since the days when the browser was called Phoenix. If you want to keep Firefox’s memory usage under control, enter “about:config” into the address bar, right-click and select “New -> Boolean” from the menu. When asked “Enter the preference name”, type “config.trim_on_minimize” and select the Boolean value “true“. From now on, whenever you minimize Firefox to the task-bar, it will release nearly all of the memory that it is holding.
  • The look-and-feel is very similar, but Firefox 2.0 seems to be a little faster than 1.5. One obvious interface change is that the close buttons for the browser tabs are now, by default, on each tab (a la Safari) rather than at the end of the tab bar. This minor change has turned out to be an amazingly divisive issue. Personally, I love it, and I’m delighted that the developers added this feature. And anyway, if it annoys you, just enter “about:config” into the address bar, search for the “browser.tabs.closeButtons” field, and change its value to “3” – hey presto, your old browser tab close button functionality is immaculately restored.
  • Firefox 2.0 is starting to feel a little bloated. The great thing about the Firefox extension system is that you can bolt on the functionality you want; in the past, this has included some great spell-checkers. Now the spell-checker is built in, and it’s not as good as many of the previously-available extensions. I’m really not sure that this kind of bloat is necessary.
  • Which leads me nicely on to the main reason for not upgrading to 2.0 – if you’re dependent on any extensions at all, the chances are they won’t work. Obviously it’s only a matter of time before they’re tweaked and modded and functioning nicely again, but right now my browser is suddenly extensionless and I’m missing them.

So, the quick answer is: 2.0 is worth the upgrade for the handful of small improvements, so there’s no reason not to upgrade unless you’re making serious use of extensions.