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Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

On November 29, a new version of the Firefox Web browser was released at www.mozilla.com. And within two days after Firefox 1.5 went live, more than two million people had downloaded it.

Although it’s only an incremental upgrade – Firefox 2.0 is expected in mid-2006 – the changes are obvious to anyone who has used the earlier version. (Its maker, the Mozilla Corporation, touts it as a faster, safer, smoother version of the program.) For instance, the new Firefox allows pages to load noticeably faster, thanks to a special cache that stores the most recently viewed pages – those accessed through the “forward” and “back” buttons. The browser’s viewing tabs, for accessing numerous pages in one window, can now be re-ordered in drag-and-drop fashion. And a “live bookmarks” feature is continually updated with the most recent headlines from news feeds around the Internet.

Just as important as these improvements in user-friendliness, however, are the new security features. Mozilla’s programmers have made it easier to remove sensitive information from the browser. By simply clicking on a button, all previously visited websites, as well as passwords and personal information one may have entered, can be erased.

While this can be done in other browsers, such as Internet Explorer, it takes some digging through the menus to find the command. The quick-clear function is especially attractive for anyone using a public computer. “It’s handy if you’re sharing a computer or if you’re at a Web café and you want to make sure your sensitive information is not visible,” says Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering at Mozilla.

The new Firefox also helps keep information secure by issuing alerts about new updates or patches. This way, the user doesn’t need to check constantly for the latest downloads. Additionally, Firefox 1.5 can block more types of pop-up ads, including those generated using the Flash multimedia format. “I think we’ve been really successful [at blocking pop-ups],” Schroepfer notes. “It’s us closing the lid on it.”

Most early reviews of Firefox 1.5 among Web users are positive. “Boy is it nice,” Web guru and novelist Cory Doctorow wrote at BoingBoing.net, which he co-edits. “If you’re still using Microsoft’s Explorer or Safari, now’s a great time to switch – better ad-blocking, better usability, better security, and better standards-compliance.”

The good reviews aren’t surprising, though, since the programmers at Mozilla built most of the new features in direct response to requests from Firefox users, according to Schroepfer. What’s more, the basic software that defines the browser is available for anyone to examine, which allows hundreds of thousands of Firefox users and fans across the world to play a role in modifying it, by sending in both bug reports and actual code.

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