The impending final release of Firefox 4 is something of a big deal for the Mozilla Foundation. Over the past year the popular open source browser has been facing some stiff competition from the likes of Google’s Chrome and, even, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser.
Around a year ago Firefox hit a peak in its popularity with almost 25% market share, something that was achieved in the space of just a few years. Since then its popularity has remained largely static, even dropping slightly in the last few months.
So the release of version 4 of the browser is important for Mozilla if it hopes to shore up its user base.
The current beta releases of Firefox 4 give some idea of what features developers are hoping will achieve this goal. Among these changes and additions are:
- A new interface. Version 4 of Firefox now has a streamlined interface and the tab buttons have been moved to the top of the window, similar to Chrome. The changes affect Windows and Mac OS X versions for now with Linux getting the changes by the final release.
- There is a new add-ons manager. The usual add-ons window now opens a separate tab in the browser window which give more space to manage the various add-ons, themes and plugins.
- Simpler add-ons. Firefox 4 also includes a simpler process for add-on developers. They can now develop add-ons that don’t require a restart when they are installed. There is also experimental support for the JetPack software development kit which makes it faster and easier to develop new add-ons.
- HD Video. Firefox 4 includes the new open source WebM multimedia format which includes the ability to play HD video natively in the browser. This is also part of the HTML5 video specification which means it is possible to embed video in a web page without needing Adobe’s Flash player.
- Crash Protection. With the growing popularity of web applications (as opposed to simply web sites) Firefox 4 includes crash protection. This means that each open application, or tab, is run as a separate process. If one plugin or application freezes or crashes that tab can be closed and the other open tabs are not affected.
- Multi-touch. The third beta release of Firefox 4 now also includes multi-touch for Windows 7 machines. This feature has only just been added to the browser but paves the way for other platforms at a later stage.
The third beta release of Firefox 4 was released on Wednesday this week.
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