NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Mozilla releases Firefox 4

We at NPI would like to extend our heart­felt con­grat­u­la­tions to the team at Mozil­la, who released Fire­fox 4 this morn­ing after labor­ing for many weeks and months to devel­op this lat­est and great­est ver­sion of the world’s best web brows­er.

This is a huge accom­plish­ment.

Hav­ing tried out the betas and the release can­di­date, I can attest that a lot of thought went into this release. There’s a ton of new fea­tures, but per­haps the most wel­come improve­ments are under the hood. Fire­fox 4 is sim­ply faster, smoother, and more respon­sive. Like Inter­net Explor­er 9, it takes advan­tage of hard­ware accel­er­a­tion, shift­ing some of the work of ren­der­ing web pages to the graph­ics card (if one is installed and avail­able). How­ev­er, unlike IE9, Fire­fox 4 is avail­able to users of XP as well as Vista and 7 on the Win­dows plat­form.

On the more recent ver­sions of Win­dows, Fire­fox 4 does away with the menu bar, replac­ing it with an orange Fire­fox but­ton. I’m of the opin­ion that this but­ton actu­al­ly makes access­ing the browser’s con­trols much eas­i­er, because there’s only one place to click, and all of the most impor­tant stuff is right there.

Addi­tion­al con­trols are avail­able through fly­out menus when you mouse over an item that has a car­rot next to it. The menu bar remains avail­able, how­ev­er, for those who don’t like the change.

On Win­dows 7, Fire­fox 4 also sup­ports tab pre­views from the taskbar, which is real­ly nifty. And on both Vista and 7, it now sup­ports Microsoft­’s Aero desk­top envi­ron­ment, which makes it look like a native Microsoft appli­ca­tion.

New fea­tures include app tabs and Fire­fox Panora­ma. App tabs are basi­cal­ly pinned tabs that always show up on the far left end of the tab bar.

If you’re a pow­er user like me, and keep a lot of tabs open, hav­ing app tabs is huge, because you can pin com­mon­ly used web pages there and go back to them with­out hav­ing to scroll through a list of open tabs.

Fire­fox Panora­ma, pre­vi­ous­ly known as Tab Can­dy, is a way to orga­nize and sort tabs. You can access it using the Panora­ma but­ton that should appear in the upper-right cor­ner (the but­ton has sev­er­al mul­ti­col­ored blocks, and hov­er­ing over it should pro­duce a tooltip say­ing, Group your tabs). You can also access Panora­ma by hit­ting Ctrl + Shift + E. Enter­ing Panora­ma, you’ll see a visu­al depic­tion of all the tabs you cur­rent­ly have open. You can cre­ate new tab groups by click­ing in the emp­ty space and drag­ging your cur­sor to draw a new box.

(Don’t see the Panora­ma but­ton? I did­n’t when I upgrad­ed to Fire­fox 4. You can man­u­al­ly insert the Panora­ma but­ton by open­ing Tool­bar Lay­out, how­ev­er. Drag it next to the Home but­ton if it’s miss­ing).

Tab groups are use­ful if you’re try­ing to sep­a­rate your activ­i­ties. For instance, if you’re doing mul­ti­ple research projects, each project can have its own tab group. Panora­ma takes some get­ting used to, and the Mozil­la team will undoubt­ed­ly be deliv­er­ing usabil­i­ty improve­ments in future ver­sions, but it’s a handy fea­ture.

Fire­fox 4 also elim­i­nates the sta­tus bar, though sta­tus mes­sages still appear in the low­er left cor­ner, a la Chromi­um. When a web page fin­ish­es load­ing, no mes­sage is dis­played. Since many add-ons placed icons in the sta­tus bar in pre­vi­ous Fire­fox ver­sions, Mozil­la has cre­at­ed an Add-ons bar to replace the sta­tus bar. This is not dis­played by default, but it can be acti­vat­ed by click­ing on the Fire­fox but­ton, hov­er­ing over options, and then click­ing Add-ons bar.

There are also a bunch of small but excel­lent enhance­ments that aren’t appar­ent until you use them. For instance, when past­ing a URL into the address bar, you can now choose “Paste and Go” instead of just paste. This elim­i­nates the need for an extra click, or the need to strike the Enter key.

Most of the best add-ons are already com­pat­i­ble with Fire­fox 4. When you upgrade, most of your add-ons will just con­tin­ue work­ing. How­ev­er, some might be dis­abled, like Lazarus Form Recov­ery or ref­spoof. I sus­pect that it won’t be long before such add-ons are updat­ed to work with Fire­fox 4.

Speak­ing of add-ons, they’re now man­aged in their own tab instead of in a sep­a­rate win­dow. The new default is for add-ons to update auto­mat­i­cal­ly, although you can spec­i­fy that you want to be in charge if you like.

Users of Ubun­tu and Kubun­tu will get Fire­fox 4 in about a month when Nat­ty Nar­whal, the next ver­sion of the world’s most pop­u­lar GNU/Linux dis­tri­b­u­tion, is released. Nat­ty is cur­rent­ly in alpha and will be enter­ing beta in a few weeks. It is (of course!) pos­si­ble to add Fire­fox 4 to Mav­er­ick Meerkat or Lucid Lynx, but there’s no harm in wait­ing for Nat­ty to be released, since it’s already on its way. By that time, more add-ons will prob­a­bly be com­pat­i­ble with Fire­fox 4 any­way.

Win­dows and Mac users can upgrade now by going to Help > Check for updates.

Final­ly, as usu­al, Mozil­la has again improved sup­port for web stan­dards. Fire­fox 4 is HTML5 ready and also sup­ports much of CSS3 (which is not yet final­ized).

Again, con­grat­u­la­tions to Mozil­la on ship­ping this release. Fire­fox 4 is sim­ply a ter­rif­ic brows­er. It looks great, it’s rock sol­id, and it’s infi­nite­ly cus­tomiz­able. It real­ly does put the user in the dri­ver’s seat.

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4 Comments

  1. Well I must say I’m under­whelmed by Fire­fox 4 so far.

    Biggest neg­a­tive: mem­o­ry usage. As com­pared to 3.6, with the same 40 tabs open and few­er exten­sions installed, mem­o­ry usage on start­up increase from 270K to 380K, and kept grow­ing with reg­u­lar use.

    I’ve found no rea­son to ditch 3.6 at this time, also in part due to the fact a num­ber of exten­sions I use don’t work with Fire­fox 4 yet. I already had Sync installed as an add-on with Fire­fox 3.6.

    Most of the new fea­tures I could­n’t care less about, such as App pin­ning, panora­ma view (which bor­ders on being a use­less gim­mick), and menu and tool­bar changes, all of which devi­ate from how I pre­fer my brows­er lay­out to be — I like my tabs to actu­al­ly appear as part of the page, not sep­a­rat­ed by anoth­er tool­bar from the page, and I don’t like hav­ing to redis­cov­er where my Home tool­bar but­ton has been posi­tioned.

    But mem­o­ry is the biggest thing for me. Unfor­tu­nate­ly Fire­fox 4 has moved in the wrong direc­tion in that regard.

    So I sus­pect I’ll only use Fire­fox 4 for devel­op­ment test­ing pur­pos­es. I see lit­tle rea­son to oth­er­wise at this time.

    # by Daniel K :: March 25th, 2011 at 12:15 AM
  2. Ques­tion: Does Fire­fox 4.0 crash dai­ly as does every pre­vi­ous iter­a­tion? If so, I think I’ll just ignore the new ver­sion, because, why both­er?

    # by bluesky :: March 25th, 2011 at 7:35 AM
  3. Fire­fox has nev­er crashed on a dai­ly basis, at least not for me, and I’ve sub­ject­ed it to a lot.

    As to mem­o­ry usage, I think the apho­rism, “Your mileage may vary” applies. Fire­fox is still not com­plete­ly mul­ti­process (although plu­g­ins, since an update to 3.6, will no longer bring down the whole brows­er) and not as effi­cient and opti­mized as it could be. Mozil­la is plan­ning to release future iter­a­tions on faster release cycles.

    I am still using the Fire­fox 3.6 branch on Kubun­tu as well. I won’t be using Fire­fox 4 until Nat­ty comes out.

    # by Andrew :: March 25th, 2011 at 12:38 PM
  4. If Fire­fox is crash­ing for you dai­ly I sus­pect you have a prob­lem with your install or envi­ron­ment . If you’re using 3.6 you’ll already be ben­e­fit­ing from the sep­a­rate plugin-container.exe process which allows things like Flash movies to blow up with­out crash­ing the entire brows­er.

    # by Daniel K :: March 25th, 2011 at 5:25 PM