Print 30 comment(s) - last by hclarkjr.. on Aug 24 at 3:19 PM

  (Source: Kalyan Varma)
New browser brings lots of tab features, speed improvements

On Monday Firefox 4's fourth beta will launch to testers worldwide, as Mozilla charges toward its upcoming major release.  The browser's code was frozen on Thursday and is being finalized for release.

Firefox's improvements fall into three general categories  -- looks, functionality, and speed.

In the looks department, the new build is expected to look much like the first Firefox 4 beta, which introduced the new Aero Glass look for Windows Vista and Windows 7.  Noticeably absent from the new look's default appearance is the text menus of previous editions.  Much of its functionality (such as the bookmarks menu) has been chopped and distributed to new locations around the new GUI.  However, pressing the "Alt" key at any time will reveal the traditional text menu.

In the functionality department there's a number of improvements to tabbing, the software technology that's become the face of modern browsing.  Starting with the previous betas the option to change a tab into an "app".  This serves the duel purpose of shrinking commonly used tabs and allowing their organization based on purpose.

Another tabbing technology that landed in Firefox 4 beta 3 was the "switch to tab" option.  This option's benefit is that you can quickly switch to open tabs via typing in the address bar.  It also helps prevent unintentionally opening the same URL multiple times.  However, this feature can be a bit obnoxious at times at it makes it harder to intentionally open multiple instances of a commonly visited site, as it removes the open tab from the autocomplete list.

Finally, there's the "tab candy" feature, which has been renamed "tab sets" and will be packaged with the fourth beta.  This feature allows users to group tabs together and perform group moves.  Mozilla indicates that the goal here is to prevent users from having to open multiple windows in order to successfully group tabs.

Also in the functionality department, there's increased compatibility with numerous new web technologies like HTML 5.

Turning to the speed department, the browser's Javascript performance has been tightened up.  And for the first time the browser will be able to use the GPU to offer faster rendering of graphical page elements, such as text. 

This GPU enabled rendering leverages Microsoft's Direct2D API.  Unfortunately the feature still is not complete.  In past releases enabling the feature manually would cause instant crashes on some machine.  This time around, support is rumored to be better, and Mozilla is actually encouraging users to turn it on -- it just doesn't feel the feature is quite ready to turn on by default.  Instructions to turn on the feature can be found here.

Firefox 4 still likely has one more major beta ahead.  The planned release schedule calls for a final build to release in November 2010.  It's possible that release may be moved to an early date, though, given the success of the beta builds, thus far.

Mozilla is in a tricky market position.  On the one hand, it's doing well in that it's been the first Microsoft-competitor to build up a serious market share, seizing about a third of the browser market in many countries.  However, tough obstacles loom.  The much-faster, Direct2D enabled Internet Explorer 9 will soon look to help Microsoft reverse its losses and reexpand its lead.  Recent tests have shown IE9 to be neck-and-neck with Firefox 4 in script speed. 

Firefox is also facing the challenge of dealing with faster competitors like Opera and Google.  Google's Chrome browser, in particular, has reportedly taken almost 10 percent of the market thanks to its large speed edge.

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By gmyx on 8/21/2010 7:49:42 PM , Rating: 2
I'll probably get killed for this but FF4 is unimpressive.

I love the look of FF3, it looks like an application. FF4 looks dumbed down to the lowest denominator. I have this trend.

Oh, and don't prevent me from opening the same site multiple time (such as this one). That is a feature with will get disabled PDQ on my machine.

In short, I'll stick with FF3. Or find something else.

RE: Unimpressive
By Reclaimer77 on 8/21/2010 7:53:29 PM , Rating: 1
It's in BETA. Just saying...

RE: Unimpressive
By FaceMaster on 8/21/2010 8:10:21 PM , Rating: 2
The final version had beta be better...

RE: Unimpressive
By Spookster on 8/24/2010 1:54:00 AM , Rating: 1
It's the masta beta.

RE: Unimpressive
By quiksilvr on 8/24/2010 9:09:44 AM , Rating: 2
You beta believe that I'm beta on this beta.

RE: Unimpressive
By gmyx on 8/21/2010 8:17:46 PM , Rating: 2
It may be beta, but it's pretty much set. I guess I could always look up themes.

RE: Unimpressive
By Targon on 8/22/2010 8:32:30 AM , Rating: 3
There are still some bugs with beta 3, so I will have to see if they are gone in beta 4 or not. It is looking very good though, and the UI is a LOT easier to use, with or without the top menu bar turned on.

I personally hate the UI in IE 8 and Google Chrome, feeling like someone decided to change things just for the sake of changing them, rather than really having an idea that really makes things work better.

RE: Unimpressive
By Zingam on 8/21/2010 8:24:57 PM , Rating: 2
It's OK and you can get back the old look if you wish at least in the 1st beta.

RE: Unimpressive
By theplaidfad on 8/21/2010 10:06:20 PM , Rating: 2
Did you really expect different? Joke's on you.

RE: Unimpressive
By OAKside24 on 8/21/2010 11:40:34 PM , Rating: 3
I wasn't overly impressed with the beta (Fx 4.0 Beta 2) either, but that's probably thanks to the devs of my favorite/critical add-ons: A few were ready, many worked fine when forced, but others were totally broken with little hope for a quick fix... and I truly missed them. There were also some very noticeable bugs (a TRUE beta). That said, I appreciate just about all of the general 4.0 changes, like the totally new UI (with Aero Glass), speed improvements, etc. I will definitely be switching from 3.x (again) upon final release.

RE: Unimpressive
By bug77 on 8/22/2010 4:52:27 PM , Rating: 3
FF 4.0b3 comes with the recommendation to install "Add-on compatibility reporter". This enables all your add-ons and lets you try them out. If they still work, you may report them as functional, otherwise you may report the nature of the failure. It allows developers to easily track what's working and what's not, while letting you use add-ons that are not marked as compatible yet, but work fine otherwise. Seriously, it seems to be the best add-on since ad-block (yes, I can't be bothered with intellitext and animated overlays).

RE: Unimpressive
By Slyne on 8/23/2010 3:29:38 PM , Rating: 2
I completely agree with that last sentence. If you remember the polemics about people's use of ad-blockers a few months ago, there's an easy end to those:
Site owners, drop intellitext and (to the best of your abilities) resource-gobbling flash ads from your web pages and I, along probably many others, will forget about Adblock Plus.

As for the FF beta, it's becoming more and more of a problem that all applications, be them browsers, mobile phone OSes, or even Notepad++, come with plugins/extensions that have become an integral part of the app feature set, yet are maintained independently. While I am grateful they exist, upgrading the platform app is getter more of a headache every year (compounded by the fact that if you're a power user, there's always something to upgrade). That's the main reason I stay away from betas lately (and sometimes upgrades, for a while), I'd lose as much as I'd gain.

RE: Unimpressive
By BruceLeet on 8/24/2010 4:24:19 AM , Rating: 2
With Adblock Plus and FF4b3 the add-on sometimes blocks out alot of images including Google image search results, including still shots of video previews in google video search results.

Can't stand ads, I've been using FF and Adblock for a long time, and when I had to disable adblock plus I notice a VERY significant increases in loading times for webpages, even simple ones like this site here it takes like a second to load! Thats too long.

It really surprised me how I CANT surf the web without Adblock plus, the author of this add-on deserves share in Mozilla stock when it goes public. I consider it the best thing created since the internet itself!

RE: Unimpressive
By Drag0nFire on 8/22/2010 2:10:32 PM , Rating: 2
Haven't seen the interface yet, but I saw a demo of Tab Candy (or whatever they're calling it now). It looked perfect for me, and if well implemented I'll make the switch for that alone.

I'm not a fan of dumbed down interfaces, but if it saves screen space, honestly I don't use the menus much anyways.

RE: Unimpressive
By adiposity on 8/23/2010 12:08:46 PM , Rating: 2
I'll probably get killed for this but FF4 is unimpressive.

No, that's a legitimate opinion. FF4 doesn't add much, but tab sets are quite useful, IMO. I will see if the GPU acceleration is any good, but if it works, that will be nice, too. At this point, I'm not really looking for it to "impress" me, except to have good performance and continue working with all my extensions.

I love the look of FF3, it looks like an application. FF4 looks dumbed down to the lowest denominator. I have this trend.

What do you mean? Basically they hid the menus unless you hid "alt." And the "stop" button is gone when the page is no longer loading (turns into "refresh"). What else is "dumbed down"? Personally I always had my menu bars as sparse as possible, to give me more "reading" room, but that's just me. The new look seems fine to me.

Oh, and don't prevent me from opening the same site multiple time (such as this one). That is a feature with will get disabled PDQ on my machine.

It doesn't really prevent you from doing that. The default behavior is to jump to the open tab, though. It's just that autocomplete won't work (you can use booksmarks or just type in the new address, if you like). However, it only has this behavior if the URL is identical--not if you are in a subpage of the same site.


RE: Unimpressive
By Reclaimer77 on 8/23/2010 7:29:47 PM , Rating: 2

Firefox already impresses me. I don't need FF4 to impress me, I just need it to keep doing it's thing.

By CarbonJoe on 8/22/2010 12:32:08 AM , Rating: 4
Firefox *really* needs multi-threading. Each tab needs to be it's own thread, so that when one site causes a crash, it doesn't take down every other FF tab/window.

RE: Multi-threading????
By AnnihilatorX on 8/22/2010 4:13:45 AM , Rating: 1
Well plugins now run on different threads so crashing the plugin won't crash the browser.

RE: Multi-threading????
By KonradK on 8/23/2010 9:17:01 AM , Rating: 2
I never saw this feature useful in practice. It just does not hurt, but does not help too. If firefox.exe crashes the plugin-container.exe crashes too (exactly in that order). I never saw situation where plugin-container.exe crashes solely and firefox.exe survives its crash.

RE: Multi-threading????
By asuffield on 8/22/2010 4:58:12 AM , Rating: 5
That is not what threading means. Threading will not stop one thread from taking out all the others when it crashes. You mean separate processes, not threads.

By smitty3268 on 8/22/2010 3:49:00 PM , Rating: 1
The main javascript performance improvements aren't being merged back in until Sept. 1st, which should be just in time for the next beta release after this one. Currently that code is still about 30% slower than Webkit/Chrome, but that's a lot better than the current performance and should be comfortably ahead of IE9 for those that really care.

I was never really sold on the UI that Chrome came up with either, but it appears that all the major browsers have now switched to it so there's not much choice anymore.

RE: Speed
By Chocobollz on 8/23/2010 4:19:40 AM , Rating: 2
That's why I love Opera, because it's different from all the others. Opera's UI seems complicated but actually it's really simple in operation, while the others opted for a more simplistic UI but gave up simplicity in operation, for example, when we want to clear the caches for a particular website, in Opera it's as simple as right-click -> edit site preferences -> cookies -> delete, and how'd you do that in FF? I haven't seen that option in it. Well, maybe there's an addon to do that, but then it'll complicate things and make it not a "simple" browser anymore.

So the point is: SIMPLE UI != USER FRIENDLY.

RE: Speed
By LRonaldHubbs on 8/23/2010 9:32:31 AM , Rating: 2
I never really found Opera's UI to be very complicated. Maybe it's just because I've been using it for so long. I guess there are far more levels to the preferences menus than in other browsers, but on the other hand, it lets you change a ton of stuff.

Personally I love Opera for its minimalist UI. 99% of the time I don't need to use the traditional menus, so having them hidden from view makes sense (why waste screen space on something I don't need?). In the rare event that I do need them, they are available in the unified menu dropdown, or for people who dislike change, Alt+F11 unhides the traditional menus. And as you pointed out, all the major features that would normally be found in the menus are available just by right-clicking on the page body (bookmark, print, site-specific settings, etc).

FireFox 4 = Opera
By B3an on 8/22/2010 8:07:22 AM , Rating: 1
Has anyone else noticed that FF4 looks ridiculously like Opera now? All main browsers apart from IE (so far) seem to be copying each other with looks. But FF4 is literally almost exactly like Opera.

I'm not impressed with these speed improvements either, it's still far behind Chrome and Opera. And browser speed does very much matter still on todays hardware before anyone says it. I've on a 4.2GHz 980X with RAID SSDs, yet Chrome is still clearly faster than FF, and certain complex scripts clearly run a lot better on certain browsers. An example would be google maps - maximising the window to 2560x1600 and dragging the map is a little laggy on googles own Chrome, but on Opera it's fine.

RE: FireFox 4 = Opera
By Miqunator on 8/23/2010 3:01:02 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, on the surface it looks almost exactly the same. Not using FF for the looks or speeds though, addicted to Adblock and NoScript I'm afraid...

What's all the complaining about?
By islseur on 8/22/2010 1:17:35 PM , Rating: 2
Firefox is a FREE browser, Multi-platform, Open Source, A lot of functionality extensions, usability and is easily customizable. Remember, you can't have everything from both worlds right away.

The new version is still NEW, that means it will take time for extension developers to adapt, some bugs sorted out.

Generally I'm VERY happy they are taking a bold stance with support of HTML5 and the open video formats on behalf of all of the WORLD! The other corporate controlled browsers are better here and there but the same old philosophy of control, power, greed and privacy compromise.

Firefox supports open standards, respects your privacy and helps shape a better world for you and me.

I will definitely continue using Firefox! It makes me feel GREAT. :-)

firefox beta 4.4
By hclarkjr on 8/22/2010 3:09:30 PM , Rating: 2
been running beta 4.4 since friday and must say they improved the speed a lot with this release. tab candy has been introduced and can be turned off by those that do not want it.

Dual and scaling
By CZroe on 8/22/2010 9:40:42 PM , Rating: 2
"Duel?" Seriously? *shakes head*

Anyway, I want a desktop browser that can scale like a mobile phone browser (iPhone Safari, for example) without breaking page formatting intended for larger screens/windows. This would help when I need to put a site in a small window or when I encounter one that would otherwise have problems on a low-rez netbook display.

The Duel Purpose
By lycium on 8/23/2010 1:52:26 AM , Rating: 2
Have at thee, knave! *waves sword*

4.4 is on the beta site now
By hclarkjr on 8/24/2010 3:19:47 PM , Rating: 2

Firefox 4 Beta 4 is available in 39 languages.
Firefox Sync is now included by default.
Users can organize their tabs using Firefox Overview.
An experimental API is included to provide more efficient Javascript animations.
Firefox now supports the HTML5 video "buffered" property.
See the complete changelist from the previous beta.

As well as these features from previous Firefox 4 Betas:

Tabs are now on top by default on Windows and OSX - Linux will be changing when the theme has been modified to support the change.
You can turn any tab into an "App Tab" by right-clicking on it and selecting "Make into App Tab" from the context menu.
Web developers can animate content using CSS Transitions.
Responsiveness and scrolling improvements from the new retained layers layout system.
JavaScript speed improvements due to engine optimizations.
Changes to how XPCOM components are registered in order to help startup time and process separation.
You can search for and switch to already open tabs in the Smart Location Bar
New Addons Manager and extension management API (UI will be changed before final release)
Significant API improvements are available for JS-ctypes, a foreign function interface for extensions.
The stop and reload buttons have been merged into a single button on Windows, Mac and Linux.
The Bookmarks Toolbar has been replaced with a Bookmarks Button by default (you can switch it back if you'd like).
Crash protection for Windows, Linux, and Mac when there is a crash in the Adobe Flash, Apple Quicktime or Microsoft Silverlight plugins.
CSS Transitions are partially supported.
Full WebGL support is included but disabled by default at this time.
Core Animation rendering model for plugins on Mac OS X. Plugins which also support this rendering model can now draw faster and more efficiently.
Native support for the HD HTML5 WebM video format.
An experimental Direct2D rendering backend is available on Windows, turned off by default.
Web developers can use Websockets for a low complexity, low latency, bidirectional communications API.
Web developers can update the URL field without reloading the page using HTML History APIs.
More responsive page rendering using lazy frame construction.
Link history lookup is done asynchronously to provide better responsiveness during pageload.
CSS :visited selectors have been changed to block websites from being able to check a user's browsing history.
New HTML5 parser.
Support for more HTML5 form controls.
Web authors can now get touch events from Firefox users on Windows 7 machines.
A new way of representing values in JavaScript that allows Firefox to execute heavy, numeric code (used for things like graphics and animations) more efficiently.

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