March 23, 2011

Mozilla Releases New Firefox 4 Browser

Mozilla released a new faster version of Firefox on Wednesday, taking on Google Chrome and Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 in the aggressive Web browser market.

Firefox 4 is the latest version of Mozilla's popular open-source browser. It was in development for nearly a year. The new browser is available to computers powered by Windows, Mac OS X and Linux operating systems in more than 80 languages.

Firefox 4 offers added JavaScript performance, hardware acceleration, new tools for organizing and navigating browser tabs, a service for syncing browser settings across multiple machines, and an updated interface.

Mozilla boasts that Firefox 4 is six times faster than its predecessor and features a "Do Not Track" option to opt-out of having online activities recorded by websites that target online ads.

"We focused a lot on speed," said Mozilla vice president of products Jay Sullivan.

"But beyond raw speed, we're speeding up the way users flow through the internet. We're speeding up your real online life, improving startup time, tab switching, and scrolling "“ stuff beyond the benchmarks," Sullivan told The Register.

Sullivan also noted that unlike Internet Explorer 9, the latest Firefox browser runs on Windows XP. "This is really important for so many people," he said. Data suggests that between 40 and 50 percent of web users still use IE9. "We need to provide updates to security, privacy, and innovations to those folks as well."

Microsoft in a statement on Monday, in anticipation of the new Firefox release, defended its decision to offer IE9 only on Windows Vista and Windows 7.

"The developer community has been vocal that they want to push the web forward," the statement read. "The browser is only as good as the operating system it runs on and a browser running on a ten year old operating system tethers the web to the past. The time has come to stop focusing on lowest common denominator, and to really push what's possible with innovations like full hardware acceleration. Customers can tell the difference when they see it."

Firefox 4 offers hardware acceleration on Windows XP, although it is somewhat limited.

But unlike IE, Firefox 4 supports WebGL, which provides hardware accelerated 3D inside the browser, mapping JavaScript to the OpenGL desktop graphics interface.

Also unlike IE9, Firefox 4 runs on Mac and Linux computers.

Mozilla also developed a potential candidate for an Android version of Firefox 4. Sullivan said this version is slated to arrive "in the next couple of weeks." Like the browser version, Firefox 4 for Android offers the Mozilla's Firefox Sync service, which lets users synchronize their browser settings across multiple devices.

Originally named Firefox Weave, Sync has long been available as a Firefox plug-in, and it's the basis for Firefox Home, the Mozilla iPhone application that lets users access their Firefox data on Apple's handset. On Firefox 4, it lets users synchronize bookmarks, history, "Awesome Bar" data, passwords, form-fill data, and open tabs.

The desktop version also offers Panorama, which allows for better organizing browser tabs. And it includes what Mozilla calls "App Tabs," letting users create compact icons on the browser toolbar for frequently used web applications, such as Twitter or Gmail.

Mozilla claims the new Firefox 4 has better performance than its rivals -- IE9, Chrome and Safari.

And in response to Google, which now delivers a new version of its Chrome browser every few months, Mozilla is moving Firefox to a quarterly release schedule, planning to offer three more new versions before the end of the year.

"The motivation here is that as we build stuff, we want to get it to people as fast as possible," said Sullivan. "If you look at Firefox 4, all of its tools have been done for a while. But we created this relatively large unit to ship with. Now, when we get stuff done, we need to get it in people's hands."

It will remain to be seen whether Mozilla can actually deliver new browser version on a quarterly schedule. The company has been on a year to two-year release schedule and has a history of delays, including a three month delay on the latest browser version.


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