Print 42 comment(s) - last by marvdmartian.. on Mar 25 at 2:42 PM

Firefox 4.0 in its final release form is pretty much the same as its later betas.

Applications tabs are one new perk.

Tab grouping is another major new feature.
Release of Firefox 4 is 4 months behind schedule, in the meantime IE 9 and Chrome 10 have landed

Firefox 4.0 was supposed to release in November 2010.  Yet here it is, almost the end of March 2011, and the wayward browser has only now finally landed.  That delay allowed Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 to hit the market before it. So was the four-month delay worth it?  Read on to find out.

I.  Stable, Feature Rich

In our basic testing we found that the late betas of Firefox 4 vastly improved the stability of the browser. When GPU acceleration was first dropped in at Beta 5, the build became very buggy and would crash every few minutes for us.  We diligently submitted our bug reports, but obviously we dropped the test build as our regular browser.

Unsurprisingly, the later builds were largely devoted to stomping out the many bugs that testers like us may have encountered.  The end result appears to be a very solid browser, which crashes less often the Chrome 10.  The latest build of Firefox 4.0 is still labeled as release candidate, but the version that will be released tomorrow will be identical.

We were unable to test and assess the stability in Linux and Mac OS X, but we would hope that the stability of the Windows build carries over to these releases.

The browser brings a host of goodies to the table.  One immediate change is a new user interface.  While it doesn't look that different, there are a number of new features.  

One feature we love is the country flag info icon.  With this icon you not only get a flag of where a particular site is hosted out of, but also its domain name and IP address.

Another useful change is the Firefox 4's decision to move extensions buttons into your main address bar.  While we could see this feature getting abused by foolish extensions developers, it can greatly improve the ease of using certain common extensions like NoScript, as you tend to mouse over this area more often than the bottom of the screen (where these buttons used to reside).

Another fun feature is tab grouping, which can be found by clicking the small drop arrow in the address bar, on the far right hand side of the screen.  While we feel tab grouping is clunkier than Opera's recent "tab stacking" innovation, it's still a useful organization tool to have in your arsenal.

Yet another likable change is the ability to turn websites into pinned "applications".  You can right click a tab to turn it into an application.  It shrinks down to the page icon and will always be present when you open your browser.

The handiness of this feature cannot be overstated.  If you have a handful of sites you regularly frequent -- say GmailGoogle Finance, and DailyTech -- this feature will save space on your tabs bar and be sure that you're always only a click away from your favorite sites.

Yet another slick feature is the fact that your program bar icon actually turns into a tiny downloads progress bar when you're downloading a file.  This may not seem terribly useful at first, but if you switch to a separate window during downloading a large file, this can turn from a cute touch into a valuable feature.

Support for multi-touch in Windows 7 has also been added, perhaps future-guarding for increased PC-side touch interfaces in years to come.

Last, but not least, there's the landing of GPU acceleration.  Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Chrome all support GPU acceleration in Windows now.  Opera is close to getting the feature and Apple's Safari surely be much farther behind.

II. Support For Windows XP

At the end of the day, one of the things that may give Firefox 4 its greatest boost in market share is a decision by Microsoft.  

Microsoft decided to only support the Windows Vista operating system and onward with the release of Internet Explorer 9.  Millions of home and business customers still use the Windows XP OS and were now blocked out of experiencing the latest and greatest innovations.

By contrast, Firefox 4 supports not only Windows XP, but also Windows 2000.  

Now there is some fine print.  While hardware (Direct3D) compositing will work in Windows XP, Direct2D rendering was not fully implemented, so you will only get partial GPU acceleration.  Of course most who would be worried about this probably wouldn't be running Windows XP anymore.

Could the support for Windows XP improve Mozilla's position in the business user market?  It's hard to say.  Internet Explorer is a much easier to manage from an IT perspective, as it was build largely with a large deployment in mind, where as Firefox was largely built for the individual user.  That means that past a small business, adopting Firefox may be a bit more challenging.

Still, the company could see some pickup due to Microsoft decision to ditch support for its own OS.

III. Standards and a Small Speed Test

We were still having issues with getting Internet Explorer 9 installing on our circa-2009 MacBook Pro with Windows 7 Premium and Boot Camp.  Namely, one of the prerequisite updates just wasn't working.  We had a 64-bit machine, but it was complaining that the update was not applicable.  We verified the authenticity of our version (which we already knew) and that it was indeed 64-bit via the msinfo32 tool in Windows 7.  We've submitted a bug report.

A brief look at forums shows us that we're not alone -- other users are also running into installation issues.  We said it in our IE9 review and we'll say it again here.  Microsoft needs a stand-alone installer.  This state of affairs is arguably unacceptable.  As a result of dependency issues, some users (like ourselves) can't get IE9 even installed.  And you thought Linux was annoying.

Due to that unfortunate event, we chose to pit Firefox 4.0 final exclusively against Chrome 10, the latest stable release of Google's browser.  Chrome is the second most popular third-party browser on the market after Mozilla's Firefox.

i. Standards

In The HTML5 Test we obtained the following results (higher is better):
1. Chrome 10 - 288 points (+13 bonus points)
2. Firefox 4.0 -- 240 (+8 bonus points)

Using Acid3, a general compatibility test, that tests things like CSS and SVG, we received:
1. Chrome 10 - 100/100
2. Firefox 4.0 -- 97/100

Chrome 10 maintains a slight compatibility advantage over Firefox, though both browsers are quite good at supporting the latest web standards.

ii. Javascript

In the Sunspider Javascript test Firefox 4 ran faster, but did not properly animate the text, so we're not sure if we should call this a pass.  Nonetheless, here is the results (lower is better):
1.  Firefox 4.0 -- 299.1ms +/- 3.6%
2.  Chrome 10 - 509.7ms +/- 10.2%

We next ran Mozilla's own Kraken Javascript benchmark.  Note, in the fast we've noticed Firefox perform unusually well here versus third party benchmarks, so we tend to take its results with a grain of salt.  Here again, Firefox 4 didn't display text informing the user of the stage of the benchmark, so it was unclear whether it was fully running it properly.  Nonetheless, we obtained (lower is better):

1. Firefox 4.0 -- 8209.6ms +/- 1.6%
2. Chrome 10 - 10164.5ms +/- 1.8%

Next we ran Celtic Kane's JSBenchmark (higher is better).  The results, using 10 trials, are as follows:
1. Chrome 10 - 653 ± 80 
2. Firefox 4.0 -- 361 ± 21

In one independent test Chrome 10 took a clear lead.  In two other tests (including one from Mozilla) Firefox 4 was faster, but failed to render text properly (which may have had an impact on timings).  Thus we rule this roughly a incomplete verdict.  Both browsers look to be relatively fast, though, when it comes to Javascript.

iii. General Speed

To finish up, we ran the mother of all browser benchmarks, Peacekeeper.  Designed by Futuremark, this test measures performances of Javascript, CSS, SVG, and more.  We received (higher is better):
1. Chrome 10 - 8020 points
2. Firefox 4.0 -- 3511 points

Firefox still trails Chrome 10 in overall speed.  It was hard to reliably assess how the pair stack up in terms of Javascript performance, but it appears that they have a clear gap in terms of overall speed.  

This finding was consistent with qualitative examination, which showed pages like DailyTech loading noticeably faster, by appearance, in Chrome 10 than in Firefox 4.0.

IV. Final Words

Again Firefox 4.0's biggest weakness is that it's very late.  If it had debuted in its current form four months ago, it would have been a smash hit.  Instead it allowed Chrome to creep upwards in market share and Internet Explorer 9, amazingly, to beat it to market.

And Firefox's individual user design mindset means that it is less optimal for large-scale business installations than Internet Explorer 9.  And for home users, Chrome 10 is faster and supports more standards.

Still, Firefox 4 offers excellent extensions and a relatively slick and polished UI, both of which we enjoy.  And its support for Windows XP makes it one of the most appealing browsers for legacy users.

Firefox 4 won't necessarily catapult Mozilla ahead in market share, but it's also unlikely to lose the race for it.

The browser's installer is available here [Windows; here for Linux; here for OS X].  The webpage currently is still showing Firefox 3.6 and discussing the beta program for Firefox 4.  Expect this to be updated later today.

And check out Mozilla's Firefox 4.0 launch "parties".  It may sound corny, but Mozilla is taking a page out of Microsoft's book.  It might be more fun that you expect.

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IE9's biggest mistake...
By quiksilvr on 3/21/2011 11:27:13 AM , Rating: 1
Was having no XP support. They were supposedly trying really hard to be rid of IE6. IE9 would have been the perfect solution. What the hell happened?

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By Quadrillity on 3/21/2011 11:43:08 AM , Rating: 2
Coding a 1 month old piece of software for an 11 (ish?) year old OS is like the equivalent of feeding an internet troll.

People really need to go outside of their box for a minute and see how great Win 7 is.

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By chromal on 3/21/2011 9:48:39 PM , Rating: 2
Thank you.

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By rburnham on 3/22/2011 4:07:55 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. Time to grow up and let the past be the past. XP is done.

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By icanhascpu on 3/23/11, Rating: 0
RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By marvdmartian on 3/25/11, Rating: 0
RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By DCstewieG on 3/21/2011 11:44:44 AM , Rating: 4
Because all the people running IE6 were just waiting for IE9 to upgrade right? IE6 will die for good (it's barely limping along as is) as people are forced to move off of XP. I think it was a great decision for IE9 to abandon XP seeing what they've been able to do with it.

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By spamreader1 on 3/22/2011 9:51:00 AM , Rating: 2
And in the medical HIS world, we're waiting on baited breath for IE7 support from most vendors. /cry

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By dagamer34 on 3/21/2011 11:57:59 AM , Rating: 3
Best way to get rid of IE6 and Windows XP is to not support them anymore with new software. Releasing software for a 9.5 year old OS only encourages IT departments to continue using it, especially when in 3 years (April 2014), it will get NO security patches.

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By quiksilvr on 3/21/11, Rating: 0
RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By Quadrillity on 3/21/2011 1:50:29 PM , Rating: 2
Those who want the latest and greatest need to keep up to date with all of the related components.

For example, you wouldn't be frustrated because you couldn't add MS sync to your 66 Ford mustang...

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By GoodBytes on 3/21/2011 1:57:50 PM , Rating: 1
XP is a horrible OS with modern computers (2005+).
Not only it's memory management was not designed for high memory, where no mater how much RAM you have, XP acts like you are low in memory and shove everything on the page file. It doesn't how to properly support more than half the technologies inside. It's a pain in the but to try and make XP work properly, with modern technology. The OS itself, while supports multiple core, doesn't take advantage (every of it's processes or almost, don't use multiple cores). The interface is drawn by the CPU, which sucks terribly on it. While it was a "no choice" scenario back in 2001 and older, as GPU's where extremely expensive, and really not powerful. Back then, most people use bare bone GPU's, mostly from Intel. So it was a no go. Now you can have anything you want, even an HD background or share a window like no tomorrow while a process is being executed, and it won't slow down your computer system while you are doing it, or even have an high res background picture.

In addition to all that (and more), XP security system is a joke, let alone it's firewall, which wakes up after your program has accessed the net, and sometimes after 2-3 runs.
An 8 year old kid can make a massive virus or malware attack affecting million, quiet easily, and noting that most XP users outside of businesses, run under Admin.. doesn't help. XP is based on NT3 kernel (core of Windows architecture). NT3 was released in 1993, when Microsoft was much smaller, the internet as we know today was nonexistent. Few people that had access and communications, didn't think about making wide spread viruses, worms, and all that.

A "re-done from scratch" had to be done, and Microsoft did with Vista. Hence why the OS had many performance problem, and bugs that appeared that was never there before, or re-appeared. The focus of Vista was to redo the back system of Windows. As we know Microsoft has one of the best backward compatibility system, they had to keep a large portion of the architecture the same, but it has been re-engineered to have security and future extendability in mind.

Other new Windows advantages are more features to make the computer easier to use, therefor you are more productive, and even save energy. While not much at home, on a large scale business, it could mean millions of dollars save in electrical bills. How many company you work for, put their computer to sleep over night? None, now mix that with the fact that XP doesn't power manage any components and that it's left to the hardware to do the work, if it supports it.
A while back, Ar Technica showed how much power Windows 7 save. On my laptop I even gain battery life by ditching XP.

To answer your question.
Your example/comparison is not working. Software isn't cars.
As computer technology moves WAAAAAAYYY faster than car. It's like comparing a Honda Civic from the 60's to 2014. Which car is better, more secure, more efficient?
The car represent the OS. I know it's backwards... but again your example/comparison isn't good. You can't compare
apple and oranges well.

So really, other than being lazy, and trying to avoid the inevitable, training employees, and upgrade some computers, which don't get me wrong, costs a lot of money at the end. They decide to stay with old technologies. Another problem is IT manager. I mean the pressure they have. If the transition from XP to Win7 let's say isn't super smooth, and it means down time for the business, which can translate to any money lost. Who's fault is it? the IT manager. So he or she gets fired. So they don't take any chances, in stead of trying to convince their superior how beneficial the upgrade CAN be in the long run, and improve security, protecting better valuable data, and improve IT service repair.

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By ZachDontScare on 3/21/2011 3:19:12 PM , Rating: 3
Irrelevant. For a lot of people, XP is simply all they need or want. For day to day use, XP is more than suitable for most PC users. They can browse, they can run some version of Office, send email, and load photos from their camera. And play an occasional game.

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By EricMartello on 3/21/2011 7:05:08 PM , Rating: 2
Nobody is forcing them to part with XP...but I fully agree that it is high time for developers to stop supporting XP with new software or updates. People will either have to upgrade to Win 7 or stick it with an outdated OS.

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By sigmatau on 3/21/2011 10:32:02 PM , Rating: 2
Then don't expect the newest version of IE to be supported by your antiquated software/hardware. You can't expext MS to support you forever, to patch new security holes forever, to give you new features/service packs forever. You should be more than happy they have supported XP for 10 years.

The next closest competitor (Apple) will usually support you for 2-3 years. Just be happy you have IE8 and go away..... and please leave your nerd card at the door.

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By quiksilvr on 3/22/2011 1:04:37 PM , Rating: 2
If Mozilla and Google have no problem doing this, what the hell is Microsoft's problem?

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By callmeroy on 3/23/2011 3:15:35 PM , Rating: 2
My gut reaction is simply because Microsoft is the maker of the OS and since they are trying to ween people off of XP they don't want to feed them "new" apps that support it?

You see Google and Mozilla just make the browser - so WTF do they care if people use XP for 10 more years, those users won't going looking for Google or Mozilla to support their broken Windows XP...they'll go to Microsoft. Well at what point in time do you stop blaming Microsoft for wanting to NOT support a decade's old OS?

By AnnonymousCoward on 3/21/2011 3:33:22 PM , Rating: 3
The best way to get rid of IE6 and XP is to give users the choice of using the same UI in newer versions!

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By wallijonn on 3/22/2011 6:47:37 PM , Rating: 2
Best way to get rid of IE6 and Windows XP is to not support them anymore with new software. Releasing software for a 9.5 year old OS only encourages IT departments to continue using it, especially when in 3 years (April 2014), it will get NO security patches.

I take it that you don't support 100 to 1000 users...

In the real world, in the business and government sectors, one is sometimes forced to keep using old software. New software has to be certified before being rolled out onto the production floor. It's why many places are still using DOS and W98. Take a peek at that automotive store parts search screen... It's cheap because it has been paid for already. They're not likely to have to have Internet access anyway...

Nothing worse than rolling out a new OS and finding out that it doesn't work with some software. cough*Vista*cough. Oh you just installed a 64 bit OS but only have 32 bit apps...

There are some very good reasons to stay with XP (especially 32 bit WXP), IE6, IE7 and IE8 - price, backwards compatibility, stability, reliabilty, support from app. vendors.

If you supported 600 users, would you be willing to not only buy 600 new PCs, 600 new OSs (site license), 600 MSOffice apps, then 600 - 1800 other new apps - like Photoshop, etc. & et. al.?, not to mention new printers and scanners. I doubt it.

The real world doesn't work like your personal little world where one can have a single PC and throw whatever one wants on it. If you're a doctor and you paid $10,000 to $100,000 for some app. with support, you're not very likely to rush into buying W7 if that app. doesn't work with it. And really, would anyone buy a 32 bit W7 OS?

RE: IE9's biggest mistake...
By callmeroy on 3/24/2011 3:43:15 PM , Rating: 2
Ahh..your point is somewhat valid -- but even when I worked for a large financial institution where my department was responsible for the support of 10,000 users nation wide....even they were being to ween off of XP and its been 3 years since I worked for that company...

By Glonk on 3/21/2011 11:30:56 AM , Rating: 2
Pretty sure this is actually RC2. 4.0 final wasn't scheduled to come out tomorrow and they had to do an RC2 build yesterday.

RE: RC2...
By Murst on 3/21/2011 11:37:18 AM , Rating: 2
Doesn't really say its RC2... just says 4.0 in the about.

RE: RC2...
By mfenn on 3/21/2011 11:47:25 AM , Rating: 2
That's because it's an RC. RC2 will most likely become 4.0 final, but it won't be officially blessed until tomorrow.

RE: RC2...
By Drag0nFire on 3/21/2011 11:52:21 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed. WHen I go to and click "get Firefox", I get sent to v3.6.15. Until this link sends me to FF4, I don't consider it "released".

RE: RC2...
By snedzad on 3/21/2011 12:14:18 PM , Rating: 2
Don't wait for tomorrow. Here's the final version download:

i'll still stick with FF
By ncage on 3/21/2011 4:22:52 PM , Rating: 4
Speed isn't everything. Functionality is also very important. Extensions are a very important part to my browsing and this is where FF rocks. Chrome is 2nd in like but i still don't think as good as FF (thanks to NoScript...and no NotScript is not as good). Of course IE add-on ability sucks. If they add the ability to make add-ins and .net ...maybe it will help me shift back to IE. Until then FF is fast enough.

RE: i'll still stick with FF
By kraeper on 3/21/2011 4:56:44 PM , Rating: 2
That's how I see it too. FF 3 was already out-running my internet connection, so "speed" is a relative term. And while it doesn't show up in synthetic tests, NoScript, by blocking tons of useless traffic, probably closes the "speed gap" in real-world browsing anyway.

Also I seem to be the only one on this issue, so maybe I'm crazy, but I know who made Chrome, and I know how said company makes their bazillions of dollars, so they are the last ones that I want actually coding my browser. Obvious disclaimer: I'm a bit of an online privacy nut.

RE: i'll still stick with FF
By ncage on 3/22/2011 12:55:48 AM , Rating: 4
I am a privacy nut myself along withe security. The only thing i slightly disagree with you on is the reason google made chrome. I don't think it was to push more money into their pockets by taking your information directly. They got sick of waiting and see in the web browsing industry stagnate. IE definitely was really bad and even firefox was start going that direction. Google wanted quicker speeds for web apps so more was possible with the web than before (google maps for example). While this will make then money in the long run as people use the web googles hands aren't tied because of the stagnating browser market. I really do think this is a BIG contribution chrome has made. It really lit a fire under the ass of both microsoft & mozilla and we will be better for it.

By DKantUno on 3/21/2011 12:58:27 PM , Rating: 2
"Yet another slick feature is the fact that your program bar icon actually turns into a tiny downloads progress bar when you're downloading a file. This may not seem terribly useful at first, but if you switch to a separate window during downloading a large file, this can turn from a cute touch into a valuable feature."

Don't most Windows 7 apps have this? The ones I use at least do - Chrome and Steam, and even Explorer when copying over large files - if I remember correctly. Not a very new thing to get excited about.

Opera and Chrome have had icon-sized shortcuts forever. Firefox is simply being cute in calling them 'applications'.

Is there something more here I'm missing? Or was just way too much space devoted to the UI improvements which were non-news IMO.

RE: Uhh...
By bug77 on 3/21/2011 6:37:44 PM , Rating: 2
Jason's on a Mac.

RE: Uhh...
By EricMartello on 3/21/2011 7:08:10 PM , Rating: 3
MacOS - keeping up with yesterday's technology so you can feel like you're ahead of the curve.

RE: Uhh...
By sigmatau on 3/21/2011 10:38:10 PM , Rating: 2
IE9 has something better: a download window with the progress and speed of each download. You can quickly see if one is not downloading/stuck and restart it if you need.

By adiposity on 3/21/2011 1:57:56 PM , Rating: 5
We were still having issues with getting Internet Explorer 9 installing on our circa-2009 MacBook Pro with Windows 7 Premium and Boot Camp.

By "we" do you mean "me, the person that only has one computer?"

If there is more than one of you doing these benchmarks, maybe you could have used a machine that could install IE9...

By sigmatau on 3/21/2011 10:44:53 PM , Rating: 2
Ya, can we actualy get Windows benchmarks on non-Apple computers like from now on and forever? Reducing any bugs that Apple can inject into Windows would be priceless.

By bug77 on 3/21/2011 12:40:08 PM , Rating: 2
I'm looking at the HTML5 test on my Windows machine and it says 255 (+9). Maybe there's a feature disparity?

And I'm very disappointed to see FF being half as fast as Chrome or Opera, but there was a clear indication it turn out his way.

RE: 240?
By adiposity on 3/21/2011 2:31:35 PM , Rating: 2
Same here. I get 255+9.

By Targon on 3/21/2011 11:35:52 AM , Rating: 2
I have seen many plugins can cause problems under Firefox 4, mostly because the new versions are not mature. The Adobe Reader plugin for example caused problems with RC1, while the standalone program had no problem. Easy solution was to disable the plugin and just open the PDF file in Adobe Reader.

There was also a feedback plugin that caused some performance issues until it is/was disabled.

Most people don't think about it, but due to the availability of plugins, Firefox has some clear advantages for some people over Chrome.

stand alone IE9
By RedemptionAD on 3/21/2011 4:17:00 PM , Rating: 2
Go to and they have a stand alone installer for IE9.

Chrome, FF, and Opera
By icanhascpu on 3/23/2011 7:36:55 PM , Rating: 2
Been a user of FF since it was named Netscape. Tried Opera several times, stuck with it for a few months to give it a good chance, just couldn't get used to it. It always felt sort of unfinished in a way. But it had everything under the sun and was coded well.

FF is what I always went back to, from IE or Opera and even early versions of Chrome. Chrome was missing extensions back then. Extensions were THE thing a browser needs in order to get any sort of wide acceptance with a large community base of non-buisness types. After Chrome got that, and started to get a large dev base, I went to them and have been using Chrome for two years now.

Chromes UI simplicity and screen real estate without having to sacrifice bars is fantastic. Full screen switching just inst practical for most people.

The only thing pissing me off right now about Chrome:
MOTHER FLUCKERS REFUSE TO PUT IN BOOKMARK DIVIDERS. Citing how it would overcomplicated their UI. When users observe that they themselves use dividers in the very Chrome menu bars, no response is given. Someone needs to kick someone in management in the head about this.


Indeed too late
By TSS on 3/21/11, Rating: -1
RE: Indeed too late
By Glonk on 3/21/2011 11:58:25 AM , Rating: 2
Don't pay any attention to the FF4 acid score. Both IE and FF don't score perfectly on that, and it's intentional. There were ambiguities in the spec for 3 of the tests and it's more than likely changing soon. FF/IE intentionally didn't "pass" those three tests because they deemed that behaviour incorrect.

RE: Indeed too late
By Cheesew1z69 on 3/21/2011 1:34:24 PM , Rating: 3
If you are crashing that frequently, something is wrong and I doubt it's FF.

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