Saturday, May 25, 2024

Firefox 4 Beta Debuts With New Windows UI

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Mozilla is out this week with the first public beta for its next-generation open source Firefox 4 Web browser. With the latest browser update, Mozilla is adding a host of features to drive performance and support HTML5, offline storage and add-ons, while also improving the user interface over the current Firefox 3.6 release.

Though the new Firefox 4 Beta 1 release is available for Window, Linux and Mac users, the first beta does not offer the same user interface for all users.

Microsoft Windows users will be getting a new user interface and Windows 7 and Vista users get the new Firefox button which consolidates browser menu functions. Linux and Mac users will get the new interface in a future beta release. The development release cycle is set to proceed with rapid iterations, so Linux and Mac users might not have to wait too long to be brought up to speed with their Windows peers.

Mozilla plans to have new beta releases of Firefox 4 every two to three weeks. At this point, however, it’s not entirely clear how many betas will be released in total or when Linux and Mac users will get the new user interface.

“We are working on the details of those and will keep you posted,” a Mozilla spokesperson told

With the new user interface, Mozilla is switching up the way that it treats tabs in Firefox. Ever since the first Firefox release, tabs have been placed underneath the address bar. With Firefox 4, Mozilla is taking a page from Google’s Chrome browser and putting the tabs on top of the browser window. While the new format is now the default in Firefox 4, users who want to revert to the old interface can do so by unchecking the “tabs-on-top” item in the configuration options menu.

For all supported systems, Firefox is also changing how two critical browser navigation items are displayed. The “stop” and “reload” buttons are now being consolidated into a single button. Mozilla recently concluded a browser usage study, finding that the reload button is the second most clicked button, just behind the “back” button.

The usage study was powered by the Test Pilot Add-on, which provides feedback to Mozilla developers on how people are using the browser. In Firefox 4 Beta 1, Mozilla is directly integrating a feedback button that will enable users to participate in usage studies and report any issues they might have with the browser.


Under the hood, Mozilla is packing in a number of improvements ranging from performance issues to new standards support.

From an HTML5 video perspective, Firefox 4 Beta 1 supports the WebM format that Google recently open sourced with the VP8 codec.

There is also a new HTML5 parser, which is intended to help improve page-rendering speed. Overall performance was a key goal for Mozilla developers with Firefox 4.

“In this version, we focused on improving responsiveness at start-up and during page loads,” Mike Beltzner, Mozilla’s director of Firefox, wrote in a blog post. “This is just the beginning for performance improvements in Firefox 4.”

Firefox 4 Beta 1 also takes aim at offline storage for Web apps with the new IndexedDB engine. Additionally, the Web Console feature provides a new way for developers to see what’s actually going on inside of websites.

Back in May, Mozilla first detailed its plans for Firefox 4. At that time, Beltzner described the Web Console as an advanced source view of looking at website internals.

For add-on developers, Firefox 4 Beta 1 includes the Jetpack SDK , a new approach to building and deploying add-ons. With Jetpack, add-ons can be installed in the browser without the need for a restart. Mozilla has been working on Jetpack since at least May 2009, when the effort was first announced.

Mozilla had originally targeted the first public beta of Firefox 4 to be released by the end of June, so the actual Beta 1 release is off by just under a week. Mozilla had set October or November as the original target for the final Firefox 4 release.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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