Mozilla hopes to turn its system into a web-wide standard for those users who would prefer not to be tracked by advertisers. As of now, this is only a test, however, and as far as we know, no advertisers have agreed to adhere to this system yet. Given this, Mozilla notes that “you won’t notice any difference in your browsing until sites and advertisers agree to respond to your preference.”
To turn this feature on, head for the “Advanced” tab in your Firefox preferences and look for the “Tell web sites I do not want to be tracked” option. The feature is strictly opt-in and hence turned off by default.
Last month, Google made a similar move by launching a do-not-track plugin for Chrome. For now, Google has not made this a default feature, though. Thanks to Google’s strong position in the advertising world, however, its mechanism already allows you to opt out of being tracked by over 50 different online advertising companies.
When it finally ships later this year, Firefox 4 will have gone through at least twelve beta releases since. The first beta was released in July 2010 and the final release is now set for around later this month. Going forward, however, Mozilla’s director of Firefox development Mike Beltzner envisions a very different release schedule. Indeed, if it is up to Beltzner, we will see Firefox 4, 5, 6, and 7 later this year as the organization changes the way it defines major versions and ships updates.
Faster Releases in Smaller Bundles
As Beltzner puts it, to stay relevant in this “newly competitive market” and gain market share back from competitors like Google Chrome (though he doesn’t mention Google’s browser by name), Mozilla has to be able to continue to deliver “a product that is compelling to users.” One aspect of this plan is redefining how the organization ships and defines updates to Firefox. Mostly, this means shipping smaller bundles of updates on a fast schedule and with a scope that is more akin to Google’s updates for Chrome.
Here is how Beltzner explanation for this new release schedule:
Changing the way we ship products will require the re-evaluation of many assumptions and a large shift in the way we think about the size of a “major” release. The criteria for inclusion should be no regressions, well understood effects for users, and completion in time for a planned release vehicle
“Shine the User Interface Until it Gleams”
There is a lot more to the Firefox roadmap that just a faster, more nimble release schedule. Priorities for Firefox in 2011 include an improved user interface (“Shine the primary UI until it gleams”) that makes the Firefox UI feel modern again and that is optimized for the most important user interactions like searching for restaurants. This will include more animations, building the F1 sharing plugin right into the browser, and introducing an improved account manager.
On the back end, Beltzner envisions a system that never takes more than 50ms to react to a user action, supports recent web technologies and runs on all modern operating systems, including mobile platforms like Android 3.0.
Usually, when we talk about plugins that crash our browsers, chances are that we are talking about Adobe’s Flash. Today, however, Mozilla announced that it is blocking the Skype Toolbar from its Firefox browser as it “is one of the top crashers of Mozilla Firefox 3.6.13, and was involved in almost 40,000 crashes of Firefox last week.”
The Skype toolbar examines every page you load for phone numbers and then re-renders these as clickable Skype buttons that enable users to initiate Skype calls right from their browser. According to Mozilla, the re-rendering of these phone numbers slows down some browser functions up to 300 times.
Mozilla is working with Skype to correct these issues and plans to lift this ban once the two companies have found a workable solution that does not lead to crashes and doesn’t slow the browser down.
Firefox 4 is running behind schedule, but today, Mozilla released the 9th beta version of its popular browser. This new version is mainly focused on improving speed and only features small interface enhancements. Thanks to a plethora of changes under the hood, Firefox now also starts significantly faster and complex animations will be smoother. Mozilla also notes that it has improved the bookmarks and history code, which should make bookmarking faster as well.
This new beta doesn’t include too many cosmetic changes, but Windows users will notice that their tabs have been raised to the top of the window and are now level with the Firefox menu button.
Firefox Sync, Panorama (which I personally never use, to be honest) and App Tabs are obviously also included in this new beta and the new add-on manager Mozilla introduced in the last beta has received some much-needed UI polish.
Given the current discussion about Google’s decision to drop support for H.264, it is also worth noting that this beta (just like others before it) supports WebM natively.
Mozilla is slowly marching towards the general release of Firefox 4. Today, the non-profit launched the 8th beta version of its flagship browser. As expected, after 8 betas, there aren’t any major new features in this latest version (though Mozilla promises to add a “do not track” feature before the final release). Instead, Mozilla is now focussing on fit and finish. In today’s new version, the focus is on making it easier to set up Firefox Sync and the new look and feel for the add-ons manager.
The new version also offers improved support for WebGL for 3D graphic visualizations on the Web.
Sync, Add-Ons and a Cool WebGL Demo
The new Sync interface, which allows users to keep their bookmarks, history, passwords and open tabs in sync across different machines and platforms, makes it easier for users to get going with Sync.
The add-ons manager received a nice interface overall and now feels far more polished than before.
As for WebGL, just give this demo a try after installing the new version. It’s easy to see why Mozilla thinks that WebGL, in combination with HTML5, will allow for a whole new range of highly graphical and interactive apps on the Web that don’t need to resort to third-party plugins like Flash.
Opera just released the 11th version of its desktop browser for Mac, Windows, FreeBSD and Linux. For a while, Opera was just an also-ran as Firefox and Chrome battled for the speed crown and additional market share in the browser business. Over the last year or so, however, Opera staged quite a comeback in the desktop arena and version 11 is the current culmination of this work. Here are the top 5 new features that make Opera 11 worth another look.
Tab Stacking This feature is huge. With Tab Candy/Panorama, Firefox was the first to test new ways for organizing tabs visually, but for me, this feature never quite felt right and was too much of a hassle to use. Tab Stacking is Opera’s attempt to rein in tab overload, but while Mozilla tries to do this with a very visual interface that can quickly get confusing, Opera simply allows you to drag multiple tabs on top of each other and then see their content and select different tabs in a pop-up window that appears as you hover over the combined tabs. If you use a lot of tabs at the same time, using this feature is quickly going to become second nature.
Extensions With this latest version, Opera finally fully embraces extensions. There are currently about 200 add-ons for Opera 11 in the company’s gallery, ranging from ad blockers to password managers, with all the usual suspects in between.
Mouse Gestures This takes some getting used to, but with mouse gestures, you can control your browser with “small, fast movements of your mouse” that quickly become second nature and allow you to speed up your browsing session. To see which gestures are available, just hold down your right mouse button and follow the on-screen guide.
SpeedOpera used to be able to claim that it was the fastest desktop browser. Over the last few years, other browsers sped past Opera, but with this latest version, Opera is back on track. Indeed, in most tests it is right up there with Chrome at the top of the list. In our own benchmarks, it was only a little but slower than Chrome, though in daily usage, this difference wasn’t noticeable and pages generally rendered just as fast as in Chrome.
Opera Turbo This has been in Opera for quite a while but never gets the credit it deserves. If you are regularly stuck on slow WiFi connections in hotels or airports (or even on planes – though some WiFi providers block the proxy mechanism that makes Turbo work), Opera Turbo can turn your browsing experience from miserable to perfectly acceptable by compressing your data (especially large images) and thereby reducing the amount of data you have to transfer.
Other noteworthy features: This, of course, isn’t all. Opera also features cloud-based syncing between machines, a built-in mail and RSS client, as well as some surprisingly useful developer tools with Opera Dragonfly. You can download Opera 11 here.
Since its launch 2 years ago, Google Chrome always offered three different builds of its increasingly popular browser: stable, beta and developer. While regular users could always stay with the stable build, early adopters could opt for the beta and developer channel. The developer channel features weekly updates, while beta channel users only see and update or two per month. Starting today, however, Google will also offer more frequent updates through the Google Chrome Canary Build channel.
It’s worth noting that this channel will run separately from your regular Chrome install (and you can install and use both in parallel). As Google notes, these new builds are “highly unstable browser that will often break entirely.”[ref]these updates should come close to daily[/ref]
A few more interesting things to note:
for the time being, the Canary Build is available for Windows only
the Canary Build can’t be set as the default browser
upon installing, the installer will ask you if you want to set Google, Bing or Yahoo as your default search engine
Overall, this looks like a smart extension of Google’s “launch early and often” strategy. It gives those who want to live on the cutting edge a chance to try out features before they become available to other users and gives Google’s engineers a way to gather even more feedback.