Yesterday, Mozilla announced that it would delay today's planned launch of Firefox 11 for a few days in order to scrutinize a potential security issue and to avoid issues with Microsoft's Patch Tuesday updates today.
Now, however, Mozilla has canceled this delay and announced that Firefox 11 is still on track for today's release. The security vulnerability, it turns out, was already known and patched. In order to avoid the conflict with Patch Tuesday, though, this release will only be available as a manual update today. Once the Firefox team is sure that there are no issues with Microsoft's latest patches, it will push automatic updates to all users.
Since switching to its rapid-release schedule, Mozilla never missed a scheduled release date for Firefox.
What's New in Firefox 11
Once Firefox 11 is available, this is what you can expect from the update:
Firefox can now migrate your bookmarks, history, and cookies from Google Chrome
With Sync enabled, add-ons can now be synchronized across your computers
Microsoft today announced that it has started a private “technical preview” of the latest version of its flagship Microsoft Office 15 productivity suite. Currently, this preview version is tested by a number of Microsoft customers under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Despite the NDA, though, chances are we will soon see screenshots and other information about Office 15, but for the time being, Microsoft itself is very quiet about the new version’s features. Come this summer, though, the company plans to launch a public beta that will likely be open to anybody who wants to give the new version a try.
According to Microsoft, “Office 15 is the most ambitious undertaking yet for the Office Division.” For the first time ever, says PJ Hough, the CVP of development in the MS Office Division, Microsoft will “simultaneously update our cloud services, servers, and mobile and PC clients for Office, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Project, and Visio.” This means that the Office web apps, which are becoming an increasingly important part of Microsoft’s overall productivity suite, will likely be updated in concert with Office 15 and that, as the Next Web’s Alex Wilhelm notes, “Microsoft is working to roll cloud features into every copy of its newest suite.” Currently, only a subset of Office apps features some form of cloud integration.
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.