From Firefox to... Deer Park?

On May 31st 2005 the Mozilla Foundation silently released the Deer Park browser... no, it's not another name change for Firefox, but the codename they gave to the long-awaited 1.1 release of the free, famous, award-winning browser. Actually what we have for now is just a non-feature complete developer preview release of the new milestone, the first alpha release, in other words. The alpha release nevertheless seems to be fully functional and already useable.ETAs for the actual stable version are not given as usual, but we should expect another alpha candidate soon hopefully (They wrote "June" on the roadmap, and we're already in July). Anyhow, this developer-oriented preview release can be downloaded and installed on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X systems plus eventually, Solaris and others. The decision of using the codename Deer Park instead of naming the release Firefox 1.1 alpha 1 or something of the like was made to avoid the havoc which occurred before the official release of Firefox 1.0 (which was codenamed "Phoenix" by the way,) when some websites offered a late preview release as the actual new version to download.
This time when you install and run the program the Firefox name has been substituted with Deer Park Alpha 1, so for example Deer Park is used in the browser's title bar and in the "About Deer Park Alpha 1" menu under "Help". The icon they used for this testing release is not even the usual firefox icon - it represents a plain blueish globe with no fox whatsoever. They have definitely put in effort this time to avoid confusion.

Furthermore, when the browser is installed it does not overwrite your existing firefox installation, simply because (on windows) it's installed under a directory named "Deer Park Alpha 1". As a side note, the process is "firefox.exe", so you cannot run Firefox and Deer Park at the same time: you'll just open another window of the browser which is already running. Having said this, let us now examine what is new in this developer's release.

Fixed bugs
Like any other Firefox Release, Deer Park comes with several Bug Fixes. On the official changelog there are many bugs reported to be fixed, sometimes they are hardly noticeable but I experienced some of them when browsing some websites and also when creating applications myself:

- 103638 - Targets with same name in different windows open in wrong window with javascript.
- 97283 - Mouse wheel scrolling does not work for elements such as div using overflow - auto or scroll.
- 251986 - Keyboard scrolling does not work for elements such as div using overflow - auto or scroll.
- 245829 - Download manager progress and title do not update correctly, wrong number of files and percentage after finishing or cancelling a download.

These are in my opinion the most notable of the notable bugs which have been fixed in this release. I was particularly relieved when I noticed that all the issues regarding scrolling divs or similar elements had been resolved. Also, it must be noted that Deer Park seems overall slightly faster than Firefox 1.0.4 (Note: I also have a Pentium II, that is why I could notice that probably). The speed increase is most probably caused by the base for Deer Park being the Mozilla 1.8 Beta 2 code, which is almost 1 year newer than what used for Firefox 1.0.

New Features
Although announced as a non-feature complete release, it comes with some new and useful features. The new feature list includes nothing too extraordinary for now and they are all somehow minor changes but they really do represent some improvements. Perhaps the two most obvious features introduced with this release are the Sanitize Deer Park and the Report Broken Sites functions. The first one is accessible through the Tools menu and basically allows you to delete the Browsing History, Saved Form Information, Saved Passwords, Download History, Cookies and Cache. Actually you can accomplish the same feat via Options->privacy, but with Sanitize you need just one click. Convenience I suppose?

The Report Broken Sites feature is reachable via the Help menu and basically starts a short wizard that you can use when you notice something wrong with a website. You just have to provide the url of the website, the problem you experienced (Browser not supported, cannot login, plugin not installed, other content missing, odd behaviou, odd appearence, etc.) and an optional description and email and then the report will be submitted to the Mozilla Deleopers.

Additional features included are also Image thumbnails as Tab icons, used when viewing a single image with firefox, not a shocking feature really but it's just a little (tiny) bit of eyecandy I guess. Furthermore, when you try accessing an FTP server anonymously and that server doesn't allow anonymous access, you are prompted to provide appropriate credentials (before it just didn't let you in)... another little improvement, which probably will not change your life, but it's nice to know that it's there.

Another more notable feature only for linux and mac users though allows changes made in the Preferences menu to be applied immediately without restarting your system. Using Windows on the other hand, they improved the option interface with a more extensive use of tabbed interfaces, and also additional options concerning tabbed browsing (BUT in my opinion the tabbrowser preferences extension is still necessary to achieve certain behaviours).

Regarding something more technical, among the so-called developers features there are various improvements regarding CSS support, in particular CSS2's quotes nesting and even some new CSS3 (!) features, like Multi-column layouts the :only-child selector, overflow-x and overflow-y properties and even various new cursors names.
Even more news from Mozilla suggests that Deer Park already supports some functions for resolution-independent scalable vector graphics (SVG 1.1), but it's obviously just experimental, and even scriptable bitmap drawing surface (Canvas). Last but not least, even support for Xforms is already possible in Deer Park through a related project/extension.

Final Thoughs
Again the Mozilla Foundation - with this fully functional but yet incomplete preview release,- seem to be always improving their foundations, and always offering support for new technologies and features before others. This release has certainly seen some great improvements, on the other hand hardly anything changes for website developers with this release. It is without a doube that websites are viewed better with Deer Park than with Firefox 1.0.4 or IE or any other browser for that matter. But it is impossible to even start planning at this stage for the development of a publicly accessible site using for example SVG graphics and Xforms, as visitors using other browsers will not be able to see any "magic" in them, or perhaps even view them at all.

It's always the same paradox of web-development: where on one side of the coin there are new and better products are available, a website/online application should be accessible by at least 90-95% of visitors. Unfortunately, for now though 90-95% of all internet users seem to use some other product instead of Firefox or Deer Park... But that's another story!