Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome browsers have three things in common. Both are lean, uncluttered, and fast. Both are based on WebKit.
Both are competing against other free browsers that are stacked with feature upon feature. What do browser users prefer? Based on the browser leaders, browser users prefer more features piled on more features. Mozilla’s aging Firefox has a new version that’s more of the same.
Users Love Features They Don’t Use
Allow me the discretion of avoiding a scientific study to say that Firefox has more features than the feature cluttered Internet Explorer. Counting features would just take too long.
If Firefox 3 won the browser features war, Firefox 4 is waiting to take the crown.
Mozilla just dropped Firefox 4 into beta for all the world to see. What you’ll see is more of what makes Firefox popular. More features.
Tops on my list is how Firefox treats tabs. Remember that beta of Apple’s Safari that had tabs at the top? Apple dropped them in favor of the status quo in Safari 4, but Firefox 4 gives you the option of traditional or better.
Put tabs on the top where God intended, instead of above the web page window where man, falling from grace, placed them. Firefox also has an extra trick which lets you click Switch To Tab in the browser history list.
Firefox Is The Add On King
Despite Chrome and Safari sporting nifty new add ons, Firefox has had them forever, and has hundreds and hundreds. It’s one reason I use Firefox as much as Safari on my Mac. Firefox 4 has a new Add On Manager which makes it easier to manage the easily collectible extensions.
It’s easier to find add ons, easier to install add ons—including extensions and browser themes.
New in Firefox 4 is the ability to install add ons without having to restart Firefox. Granted, the process was simple enough, but Firefox 4 makes it easier. The new version also promotes a special Crash Protection feature that limits damage from crashing plugins such as Adobe Flash. Similar functionality is also in Google’s Chrome and Apple’s latest Safari.
Firefox Gets Standardized (mostly)
Mozilla likes to tout itself as the open web standards bearer. For the most part, web pages viewed in Firefox, Safari, and Chrome all look the same. That’s where the similarities end.
Firefox 4 doesn’t make it easy to play H.264 videos in a web page because it’s a proprietary video standard (though used all over the web), not open and free. Instead, Firefox promotes HTML5 and the new WebM video format (hardly found anywhere on the web, and which Safari and Internet Explorer do not support).
That said, Firefox 4 does push along more HTML5 and CSS3 features, includes a Web Console experimental analysis tool so developers (and you) can see what’s inside dynamic web pages.
Some items are either missing or coming at some point in the development cycle of Firefox 4.
Missing, too, are privacy controls, bookmark (and password, settings, and history) synchronization across multiple devices that use Firefox, and themes for Mac and Linux users, HTML5 forms, full screen video, layered page rendering, SVG animation, an account manager, the all-important web inspector, and a bunch of other planned features.
There’s much to like in Firefox 4. So far, it’s very fast at rendering web pages; comparable to Safari, not as fast as Chrome or Opera, much better than Internet Explorer, missing a list of features, but so far without any crashes; including pages with Adobe Flash embedded in videos and ads.
If you like features, and you don’t mind waiting for the list to fill out, and you don’t mind living dangerously, Firefox 4 beta could be a fun browser experience.