Firefox 4 stumbling along

The Firefox 4 browser is edging closer to final release but still faces hurdles

January 21, 2011
Firefox 4 stumbling along

Once the darling of the Internet digerati, the Firefox browser is still battling problems to issue a new release. Version 4 of the browser has suffered multiple setbacks and although it now looks likely to be released in February, the delays have caused Firefox to lose some of its shine.

There is good and bad news about progress on version 4 of the browser. Last week the ninth beta of Firefox 4 was released, the final beta release of the browser.

The beta release is full of new features including speed improvements. In part this is because Firefox 4 is now based on version 2.0 of the Gecko rendering engine, which promises to provide a big speed boost.

The latest beta also includes the new add-ons manager as well as the promised API for managing extensions.

Mozilla is also putting the final touches to the new Firefox interface, with all versions now sporting the tabs on top of the browser window. On some platforms, such as Linux, this is relatively new and still fairly basic.

Firefox 4 also includes Panorama, a pop-up that provides a graphical view of all open tabs. It’s an attractive and easy way to manage a long list of open tabs and it works well.

Also refined in this release is Sync, which synchronises bookmarks, history, tabs and password across multiple devices. This was originally known as Weave but now has a new name and is integrated directly into the browser.

There are also some speed enhancements in the bookmarks and history code in Firefox 4 beta 9 which should boost startup performance.

Not all rosy

Not everything is working perfectly in Firefox 4. One of the big features planned for this release was hardware acceleration. While hardware acceleration has been included for Windows and Mac OS X users, the developer said that performance on Linux was simply too bad for it to be included fully.

The primary problem according to developers is that most Linux drivers are “disastrously buggy”. Mozilla developer Boris Zbarsky posted on the Mozilla developers list saying: “We tried enabling OpenGL on Linux, and discovered that most Linux drivers are so disastrously buggy…that we had to disable it for now. Heck, we’re even disabling WebGL for most Linux drivers, last I checked.”

However, Linux users running a machine equipped with the Nvidia proprietary driver will be able to enjoy the benefits of hardware acceleration. That driver is the only one to date that has been approved by the Firefox 4 developers.

Hardware acceleration on Windows 7 and Mac OS X are working as expected according to developers.

Despite the setback on the Linux platform, Firefox developers are hoping to release a final version of Firefox 4 by the end of February 2011.

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