Web 2.0, as it is infuriatingly called, is here. It has been for a while, it's just that our browsers have taken a while to catch up.
The advent of seriously interactive websites and serious adaptations of web development technique AJAX, combined with new online threats, mean it's high time for both Microsoft (opens in new tab) 's Internet Explorer and Mozilla 's Firefox to get a long-overdue overhaul.
Both browsers have undeniably improved. In Internet Explorer's case, now in version 7, the improvement is drastic. Firefox 2.0 is less of a dramatic overhaul, but that's only because 1.5 was, in truth, pretty good anyway.
The user interface is the big winner overall. IE has gone from a necessary evil to something that's actually rather appealing to use. Firefox's interface hasn't improved markedly with this release, but again, there aren't too many who would say it had to.
IE's development is far slower than that of Firefox. The reason is that Mozilla's browser is the open source model in action, and that's why Firefox 3.0 is scheduled to arrive in mid-2007; and Internet Explorer will doubtless fall behind again.
Tabs for all
Despite being less obviously enhanced than IE, Firefox does gain points elsewhere. It's extensible for one thing, meaning users can develop it beyond its original capabilities. It's also more than just a Windows browser - Safari refugees in Apple Mac world will love Firefox 2.0.
So what of IE7? As we mentioned in our full review, the best parts are the QuickTabs feature that enable you to view thumbnails of all your open tabs in one window.
Firefox itself has enhanced to the way it handles tabbed browsing, and the function is more customisable than before.
IE7 has integrated RSS feeds into its features. The integration of Favorites and feeds is already something that happens in Firefox with Bookmarks and Live Bookmarks.
In Explorer 7's case, we think the RSS feature needs some improvement, as the feeds don't sit very well in the Favorites Center. But it has to be said that the Live Bookmark model doesn't work fantastically well in Firefox 2.0 either.
IE7 does have a handy RSS icon that lights up whenever it detects a feed. This is far better than the method by which you subscribe to a feed in Firefox.
But feeds aren't Bookmarks. Or Favorites. So both browsers should stop treating them as such.
Since Live Bookmarks is one of our least favourite aspects of Firefox, we find it perplexing that Microsoft should have come up with what amounts to a poor adaptation of an already poorly conceived concept.
Firefox does have a get-out-of-jail card, though: you can simply install an extension to better handle the RSS, or configure another application to take advantage of it - as we've shown below. But this doesn't get away from the fact the default RSS settings aren't great in either browser. Why would you give up on a newsreader? Well, you wouldn't on this evidence.
Search and security
Search features are now very similar in both applications. You can select from different search providers, or download more plug-ins for new search providers from the web. However, Firefox's search box remains the more useful, with an auto-complete function.
Internet Explorer 7 renders CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) far better than its predecessor, and irons out the other key rendering bugs that have so irritated web designers since IE6 hit the web five long years ago.
Both browsers have improved in terms of security. IE7's security features work better with Windows Vista, but the anti-phishing tools are alive and well even when used with XP. Sites visited are also checked against a site database maintained by Microsoft.
Firefox also incorporates an anti-phishing tool, but it's far less convincing than IE7's offering. In Firefox's case it simply checks a site against a list, rather than also looking at the behavioural facets of a page detected by IE7.
IE7 also supports SSL3, the latest web page security protocol.
Other Firefox enhancements also include a multi-lingual spell checker, plus improved form handling. Unlike Firefox, IE7 handles Forms very sporadically.
So which is best?
The big problem with IE7 is that it is derivative. And not just of Firefox, it also takes from Safari and Opera, too. Having said that, or perhaps because of that, IE7 is - in terms of security and ease of use - the better browser. But the question is, how long before this situation changes?
It's Firefox that continues to push at the forefront of innovation. Microsoft surely has to be thinking about IE8 already - otherwise, by the time Firefox 3.0 comes out, it'll further behind than ever, especially if we have to wait another five years.