April 01, 2011

FireFox4: Are Those Initial Million Users a Sign of a Good Thing

As I reported earlier this year, Mozilla (NewsAlert) had come a long way in its development of FireFox 4, with a hopeful end in sight for its beta testing in February of this year. It was reported mid-2010 that Beta 1 included dozens of major features and improvements. Perhaps the most noticeable new feature for users with a Windows PC will be the look of the browser. The tabs were moved to the top to make it easier to focus on the Web content and easier to control the tools. For users with Windows 7 or Windows Vista, the menu bar was replaced with a single button so users can get to the most used options with a single click.

Nonetheless, with all the hype, Mozilla claimed that some extra time was needed for bug cleanup in the launch of a new beta version, with Mozilla leadership pushing for a finalized Firefox 4 as soon as possible. Mozilla faced some challenges as Beta 9, but it appears that Firefox 4 Beta 9 is currently frozen because until yesterday, Jan. 13, Mozilla was looking to post Beta 9 become available between Jan. 14 – 18, while Beta 10 was itching to follow soon after, displaying the final look and feature set of the browser. Mozilla’s Senior Director of Platform Engineering, Damon Sicore, was honest in admitting that there remains close to 160 bugs in the software, a.k.a. hard blockers, hence the reason for a scheduled Beta 10.

For instance, TMC’s (NewsAlert) own Chief Technology Officer, Tom Keating, ran into one of these numerous bugs while testing one of FireFox 4’s many beta versions. He wrote in a blog post, “I’m using FireFox 4 beta and one annoyance was that although I see the back and forward buttons, I don’t see the little arrow that opens the drop-down menu allowing you to go back multiple pages in 1-click. Apparently, FireFox has gone with the minimalist approach and removed the drop-down arrow for viewing your back button ‘history.’ Same goes for the Forward button.”

This is why, although potential users wait impatiently for FireFox 4’s launch, developers insist on multiple beta versions to hear and read the opinions of the market and also to head off any disastrous bugs, threatening the livelihood of the new launch. Developers beneficially given an extended testing period past February and users thankfully promised an upcoming launch due to Microsoft’s (News Alert) IE 9, an official ready-or-not release date was set for March 22. Not surprisingly, Mozilla said that when the new browser saw a million downloads by users, its developers and employees “rang cowbells, cheered, and watched as someone dressed in a FireFox mascot costume danced around the room.

Mozilla employees aren’t the only ones with a smile on their face, as users find among the new features of FireFox 4: a new tab manager called "Panorama;" an overhauled interface which resembles the minimal design of Chrome; GPU acceleration to increase page composition speed.

The browser also boasts an updated plug-in architecture called JetPack and a more comprehensive support for HTML5.

Similar to Internet Explorer 9, which was released earlier this month, Firefox 4 comes loaded with a "do not track" feature that is designed to ensure Web surfing privacy. Mozilla execs told PC Magazine that the anti-tracking feature is a work in progress. The company said that it is considering giving users the option to select from different levels of the "do not track" function.

One thing is for certain with the release of Microsoft IE9 and Mozilla FireFox 4 hitting the market hard, it’s time to benchmark for the users, and in TMC’s CTO’s opinion, “I personally use Firefox 4. Honestly, I’d probably switch to Chrome, but I keep 40 Firefox tabs open all the time and unfortunately Chrome uses more memory since it uses separate processes for each tab. Firefox on the other hand uses a single process that is shared by all the tabs thereby ‘sharing’ some of the execution code, while Chrome has to duplicate the code across each process. Though the one drawback of Firefox is that it has a slow memory leak so over the course of a day or two, the process goes from using 500MB to 1.6GB of RAM (NewsAlert) forcing me to restart it because my PC starts swapping to the hard drive making it a real dog.”So who won this epic battle of the browsers? Surprisingly, Mozilla’s Firefox 4 won this round, which will no doubt result in Chrome & IE fans claiming the test was skewed or something. But you can read the full results here.”

As Preston Gralla of Computerworld insinuates, it is far too early to pick a winner in the epic battle of the browsers. Who knows what the big download numbers for FireFox really mean.

Jaclyn Allard is a TMCnet Web Editor. She most recently worked on the production team at Juran Institute, a quality consulting firm producing its own training and marketing materials. Previously, she interned at Curbstone Press, a nonprofit publishing press in Willimantic, CT, and fulfilled the role of Editor-in-Chief for the literature and arts journal published by the University of Connecticut. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee


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