SiliconFilter

Microsoft Wants to Set the Record Straight on IE9 vs. Firefox 4 Download Numbers

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With the launch of a major new version of virtually every major browser in the last few weeks, the discussion around how many downloads each one of them got is unavoidable and, as Microsoft’s senior director of its Internet Explorer business and marketing group, Ryan Gavin calls it, “a natural temptation.” In comparison with Mozilla, which just launched Firefox 4 last week, Microsoft’s download numbers don’t look great. Mozilla saw about twice as many downloads as IE9 during the first 24 hours of Firefox 4’s general availability (2.4 million vs. 7 million). According to Microsoft, however, there is a very good reason for this.

The difference between the way Microsoft releases its browser and the update mechanisms that Mozilla and Google have in place, though, means that it’s virtually impossible to draw any conclusions based on these 24-hour download numbers. Gavin rightly notes that both Mozilla and Google have automatic update systems in place that starts rolling the new browser version out to virtually all of their active users on the day it becomes available. Microsoft takes a very different and more conservative approach, though.

Firefox 4 Download Stats

Microsoft: “90% of IE9 Downloads Have Come From Non-IE9 RC and Beta Users”

Until now, only those users who downloaded IE9 directly were counted in Microsoft’s numbers. Indeed, Microsoft only turned on automatic updates for users who had beta and release candidate versions of IE9 installed yesterday. So far, according to Gavin, 90% of downloads of IE9 “have come from non-IE9 RC and Beta users.” IE9 still hasn’t been released for automatic updates through Windows Update, so comparing the early download numbers is, says Gavin “premature at best, and misleading at worst.”

While Gavin calls for “a thoughtful approach to measuring browser adoption,” he does take a slight swipe at the other browser vendors and, between the lines, accuses them of counting incomplete downloads in their numbers (“And remember, we report completed downloads – not attempted downloads where a user may hit a download button repeatedly but without fully downloading IE9.”).

Gavin also argues that his group is fully focused on Windows 7 and wants to give users on this operating system an “experience that will push the web forward.” Other vendors, he says, don’t have this “singular goal” of making their browser as good as it can be on Windows 7, as they focus on other operating systems, too. Some, of course, would argue that it’s a good thing to offer your browser for as many platforms as possible…

While I don’t fully agree with the overall sentiment of his argument, his call for pundits to wait for the point where IE9 becomes available through Windows Update is well taken (“Until that time, don’t get too wrapped up in the browser number gymnastics currently going on.”).



12:41 pm


Firefox 4 for Android and Maemo Now Available

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Just a week after the general release of Firefox 4 for the desktop, Mozilla just released the latest mobile version of its browser for Android and the Maemo-powered Nokia N900. Mozilla was relatively late in embracing mobile platforms with Firefox, but in terms of features, this latest release brings it up to par with other mobile browsers like Opera Mobile and the popular Dolphin browser.

For Android devices, the browser weighs in at about 13MB, making it one of the larger downloads for a mobile browser. We haven’t been able to test the browser yet ourselves, but it is worth noting that many users in the Android Market already complain that the browser feels rather slow on their devices.

Here are some of the key features of Firefox 4 for Android and Maemo: [list]

  • streamlined interface
  • faster than any previous version of Firefox for a mobile device thanks to support for Mozilla’s JaegerMonkey JavaScript engine
  • support for multi-core CPUs, which are slowly becoming more common in mobile devices now
  • support for Firefox Sync to keep your online and offline bookmarks, as well as open tabs, history, form data and passwords in sync
  • customization with Firefox mobile add-onsFirefox Mobile Features
  • “awesome screen,” which is similar to the awesome bar on the desktop and learns which sites you most often browse to and makes them available with a few tabs
  • support for Firefox Personas to customize the look of your browser
  • one-touch bookmarking
  • tabbed browsing
  • full screen view [/list]

Typing awesomescreen screen png  PNG Image 600x1024 pixels  Build 20110318052756Tabbed browsing screen png  PNG Image 600x1024 pixels  Build 20110318052756



8:33 am


What's Next for Firefox in 2011? Faster Updates, Shinier Interface and More

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Now that Firefox 4 has already been downloaded more than 8 million times, it’s time to look ahead and see what Mozilla has in store for Firefox for the rest of the year.

The Chrome Model: At Least Three More Version of Firefox This Year

While it took twelve public betas and two release candidates before Mozilla shipped version 4, the organization expects to ship at least three more versions over the course of this year, thanks in large part to a new development process that resembles Google’s method for regularly pushing out new stable versions of Chrome. These new versions will ship roughly every 16 weeks (with the option to ship even faster) and will be developed in a number of separate branches, just like Chrome.

Mozilla Firefox Development Process

What’s on the Firefox Roadmap for 2011?

Thankfully, we don’t need to resort to guesses when it comes to what’s next for Firefox this year. Mozilla’s roadmap for 2011 lays out the group’s plans in detail. Besides the faster update cadence, Mozilla plans to ensure that there is never more than a 50ms delay between a user action and the application reacting to it. The group also plans to “shine the primary UI until it gleams,” with a focus on making the interface more polished and adding more animations to the user interface.

Are we Pretty Yet

For users, this also means that the next versions of Firefox will bring integrated support for Mozilla’s sharing tool (currently known as F1) and account manager, which is meant to give users more control over their online identities and make signing in to web apps easier.

There has also been some talk about creating support for site-specific browsers to Firefox, though the 2011 roadmap does not stress this anymore.

On the back end, Mozilla obviously plans to continue adding support for modern web technologies, but the Firefox team also plans to finally bring support for its multi-process project Electrolysis to its browser (a project it started in 2009). While Firefox currently sandboxes some plugins like Flash – meaning the browser won’t crash just because Flash crashed – the plan is to give a new process to every open tab. With this technology in place, if a web app in one tab crashes, just that tab is affected and the rest of the browser just continues to work.

Are we Pretty Yet site specific 1

With version 5, which should be available this summer, Mozilla also plans to finally ship a 64-bit build for Windows. Support for Apple’s OS X Lion will arrive in version 6. Given the renewed focus on the ARM platform, it doesn’t come as a surprised that one of the priorities for Firefox in 2011 is to ensure that its just-in-time JavaScript compiler performs well on ARM CPUs.

The Next 3 Versions of Firefox

Here are Mozilla’s plans for the specific versions it plans to release over the course of this year. This list is likely going to change, so take this with a grain of salt. Mozilla also notes that it plans to add anything that improves responsiveness and stability, as well as anything that enhances the interface to these versions whenever it is ready, no matter the current version number.

Firefox 5:[list]

  • Account Manager
  • Simple Sharing UI
  • UI Animation
  • 64 Bit on Windows[/list]

Firefox 6:[list]

  • Web Applications
  • FasterCache
  • OSX 10.7 system integration
  • JavaScript Optimizations[/list]

Firefox 7:[list]

  • out-of-process add-ons with e10s

[/list]



10:00 am


Firefox 4 has Arrived: 5 Reasons Why You Should Install it Now

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Mozilla just released Firefox 4, the next generation of its popular Internet browser. This new version is not just significantly faster than Firefox 3, but it also features a new, highly streamlined interface and a number of new tools that should make Firefox 4 even more popular among power users.

There are lots of new features in the new version of Mozilla’s browser (plugin isolation on all platforms, support for modern web standards like HTML5, new security and privacy features, etc.), but here are the key new features of Firefox 4:

Streamlined Interface:

Interface ff4

In Firefox 4, Mozilla’s designers worked to keep distractions to a minimum and reduce the interface clutter in favor of providing more screen estate for the Web itself.

Gone, for example, is the menu bar in the Windows version. Instead, similar to Chrome and Internet Explorer, all the options are now available in one menu and the tabs have moved up to the top of the window. Bookmarking, too, has become easier and faster and just takes one click now.

This doesn’t mean that Firefox 4 was dumbed down, though. A lot of cool functionality for power users is just a bit hidden but easily available. You can use the URL bar to switch between tabs, for example.

Speed:

According to Mozilla, Firefox 4 is six times faster than version 3. To a large degree, this is due to JaegerMonkey, the optimized JavaScript engine that allows web apps like Gmail to run much faster than ever before.

As Mozilla’s director of Firefox Jonathan Nightingale told me last week, the traditional SunSpider benchmark, which was long the gold standard for measuring JavaScript performance, is slowly coming to the end of its usefulness. The difference between browsers in this benchmark is now often measured in milliseconds and, as Nightingale put it, “to do better, you now have to play to the test.” Other benchmarks like Mozilla’s own Kraken project or Facebook’s JSGameBench now provide better real-world guidance for how well browsers are performing.

That said, though, I ran both the SunSpider and Kraken benchmark on Firefox 4 and compared it to the latest developer version of Chrome (11.0.696.16). On average (after three test runs on a Mac) Firefox 4 easily beat Chrome. (Kraken: 4211.7ms vs. 4963.5ms; SunSpider: 189.2ms vs. 212.5ms).

Benchmarks can only convey so much about how fast the browser feels, and most users won’t notice any significant differences between most modern browsers. Firefox 4 does feel significantly faster than any earlier version, though, and I can’t help but think that it also feels faster than Chrome now.

Firefox Sync:

Most of us now work on multiple computers and Internet-connected devices every day, but it’s still surprisingly hard to keep bookmarks between these machines in sync. With Firefox Sync (formerly known as Weave), you can now easily keep all these machines in sync. All you have to do is type in your password (generated by Firefox) and Mozilla will keep your bookmarks in sync. Syncing to mobile versions of Firefox is coming soon, too.

It’s worth noting that Google Chrome offers a similar feature, too.

App Tabs:

App tabs ff4

App tabs allow you to, as Mozilla puts it, “give a permanent home to frequently visited sites like Web mail, Twitter, Pandora or Flickr.” Your apps then live in small tabs on the left side of your tab bar.

These app tabs will also alert you when something has changed in the web app (like a newly arrived email). This doesn’t work perfectly for all apps, though. Firefox watched for the site’s title to change, which most web mail providers do, but most other sites don’t.

I prefer Mozilla’s implementation of this feature over Chrome’s, because it defaults to loading all the links you click on in the app tab in a new tab.

If you become a regular user of app tabs, also consider installing the Easy App Tabs plugin, which allows you to turn a regular tab into an app tab by simply double-clicking on any tab.

Installing Plugins Without Restart

Yes, other browser developers already offer this (and didn’t spend close to two years developing their software), but for Firefox’s power users, this is a major update. Developers have to support this feature, so not every add-on will install without restarts just yet, but there are already quite a few out there that do.

As Nightingale told me, 40% of Firefox users today have installed add-ons. Today, close to 80% of these add-ons are compatible with Firefox 4 and more compatible versions are coming online every day. The new built-in add-on manager also makes finding and installing interesting extensions a lot faster and easier.

Bonus: Panorama

Ff4 panorama

Here is another feature mainly geared towards power users that stays out of the way if you don’t want to use it. Panorama allows you to visually organize your tabs into groups. You can, for example, open up a new group for the research you are doing and another one for your web mail. The two stay separate from each other. I know many people who love this feature, which made me include it here, but it’s not ideal for how I use the browser. Give it a try, though – it might just save you a lot of trouble and enhance your browsing experience.



9:25 am


How to Get Firefox 4 Today

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Firefox 4’s official release date is tomorrow, but the final version of Mozilla’s latest browser is already available on the project’s FTP servers. Just pick the right version and language for your system from Mozilla’s directory (Windows, Linux or Mac), download the installer and you are ready to go. You can also use these links for direct downloads:

Uploading these files to the various servers that mirror Mozilla’s apps is part of the regular release process that ensures that the organization’s official servers won’t be overloaded once the official release data arrives. You can rest assured that these are indeed the official files.

It’s worth noting, though, that Mozilla’s outgoing director of Firefox Mike Beltzner points out that “Firefox 4 isn’t ready until www.mozilla.com/firefox says so!

If you followed along during Firefox 4’s long and arduous development period, then the final release version doesn’t bring any surprises. Those who are still using Firefox 3, though, will surely find version 4 to be a faster and more efficient browser. We will have a full review of Firefox 4 tomorrow.

Firefox 4 release 1



9:16 am


Firefox 4, 5, 6 and 7 Coming This Year: Shipping Updates in Small Bundles

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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.

Summary

Here are the main items on Beltzner’s list:

  1. – Ship Firefox 4, 5, 6 and 7 in the 2011 calendar year
  2. – Always respond to a user action within 50 ms
  3. – Never lose user data or state
  4. – Build Web Apps, Identity and Social into the Open Web Platform
  5. – Support new operating systems and hardware
  6. – Polish the user experience for common interaction tasks
  7. – Plan and architect for a future of a common platform on which the desktop and mobile products will be built and run Web Apps

(Note: while the document says it was last updated in December 2010, the last edit was actually made on February 7)

Mozilla’s also published its plans for other areas over the last few days, including add-on development, Mozilla’s plan for a federated identity system and the future of its developer tools.



11:02 am