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Mozilla Firefox 4.0

Mozilla Firefox Editor's Review

Three years have passed since the release of Firefox 3, three years of conquer, placing Mozilla's web browser as the second most widely used browser. With approximately 30% of worldwide usage, Firefox follows the all time winner Internet Explorer. The release of Firefox 4 marks the end of a successful era, and the beginning of a new war against its major competitor Internet Explorer 9. Probably as a response to last week's major release from Microsoft, Mozilla decided to reveal faster than expected its new web browser. Therefore Firefox 4 is now available for download and ready to be used by user's worldwide.

Based on the Gecko 2.0 engine, Firefox 4 comes with many inside changes and new additions. Most important, the new version includes support for HTML5, and CSS3, graphics acceleration with Direct2D and Direct3D on Windows, XRender on Linux and OpenGL on Mac, a new Javascript engine (JaegerMonkey) and a better cross platform component model that supports multiple language bindings. A remarkable job has been done for the Add-on Manager, that stands out now as a separate module with its unique window. From here you can easily stay in touch with the community's new add-ons, but you can also download, install or remove any extensions to the browser. On the downside the download manager has been unaltered and stays identical to the one from Firefox 3.

For a better user-friendly experience, version 4 comes with a revamped interface significantly improved that features a “touchy” character compared to the one present in IE 9. Probably this feeling is the result of a minimalist approach used by Mozilla team to re-design the interface but also because Firefox 4 supports now multi-touch displays. At a first glance you will realize that the browser lacks of any toolbar, all the major command buttons being re-allocated in a single-button menu component. All the tabs have been moved on top of the address bar, making the browsing experience much easier. But the overall design concept looks almost identical to the one present in Opera 11. The only difference is the group tab manager from where you can arrange in any order the opened web-pages by just drag'n'drop them and even save any group of tabs for further usage.

Mozilla improved even further the mobility aspect of their browser and included the Firefox Sync option that allows the user to save and re-use his own settings, passwords, bookmarks, history, open tabs, across other PC's or mobile devices. You just have to create an account on the Firefox Sync official server, choose the settings you want to be synchronized and add the device you want. Another important addition is the Web Console (very similar to what Firebug was for version 2 and 3), from where you can peek into the code of dynamic web pages.

The browsing speed in Firefox 4 is significantly increased, and this can be seen while scrolling complex web pages. Similar to IE 9, with Firefox 4 you can now experience uninterrupted browsing. In case plugins such as Adobe Flash, Apple Quicktime or Microsoft Silverlight will crash on a web page, this will no longer affect the entire browser activity. You can further browse web pages, while you have others opened and completely crashed. If you want to re-establish the connection on a crashed web-page just refresh the page. In case you want to browse on another person's computer and you don't want to leave traces of your web activity, you can start a Private Browsing session. In this way, Firefox will not record the history of your present activity.

Version 4 provides improved security while browsing thanks to HSTS support (HTTPS Strict Transport Security), through which a web-page can request the browser to access its content through HTTPS protocol. In this way any attackers have no access to any important data that might leak while browsing insecure.

Firefox 4 relies heavy on memory resources as previous versions and in time it might become overwhelming for weaker PC systems. Also sometimes it stutters while loading for the first time a web-page with no reason. But I guess this is the price Firefox 4 has to pay being at the moment the most comprehensive browser on the market.

Pluses: faster than previous versions especially on complex web-pages, support for HTML5, and CSS3, fast graphics acceleration, crash protection, OpenType font features, support for WebGL, multi-touch support, Firefox Sync option;

Drawbacks/flaws: heavy on resources, some stuttering loading times while opening for the first time a web-page, no changes in the download manager, interface design based on Opera 11;

In conclusion: With Firefox 4, the Mozilla team has achieved its goal in creating the most comprehensive browser on the market without losing its open-source character.

version reviewed: 4.0

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