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Tuesday March 22, 2011 1:06 pm

Firefox 4 is here

Posted by Andru Edwards Categories: Internet, Software

Firefox 4Mozilla's popular open-source, community-developed browser has been updated to Firefox 4.0 today. Users can now download the significantly overhauled software in 75 languages from www.firefox.com. Versions are available for Windows (including the popular XP, shunned by the also-new Internet Explorer 9), Mac OS, and Linux.

The new browser version was announced on the Mozilla blog in a post lengthily titled "Mozilla Launches Firefox 4 and Delivers a Fast, Sleek and Customizable Browsing Experience to More Than 400 Million Users Worldwide."

The browser that pushed Internet Explorer to stop resting on its laurels after years of stagnation has now been pushed by Google's newer Chrome browser to do just the same. Not that Firefox had been stagnating the way that IE had been before the Mozilla browser's debut. But Chrome has served as inspiration for the new version of Firefox in more ways than one—improved speed and a simplified interface are standout examples of this.

Gary Kovacs, CEO of Mozilla, commented, "Mozilla is very proud of Firefox 4, created by our community of thousands of volunteers worldwide. It truly is the browser for tomorrow's Web. The Internet has become the most important connection mechanism in our society, which is why we've focused on making users' Web experience as fast, modern, safe and intuitive as possible."


After less than two weeks in Release Candidate form, the Mozilla team in charge of Firefox determined last Wednesday that the code was ready for the browser's claimed more than 400 million users. After conducting triage yesterday to eliminate the possibility of any last-minute show-stopping bugs, members of the team gathered today in the organization's Mountain View, Calif., "War Room" to participate in the launch, according to the Mozilla Wiki.

The new browser enters an increasingly competitive market, with a major update of Microsoft's browser, Internet Explorer 9, coming out last Monday and Google's Chrome recently passing ten percent of market share. IE9 only runs on Microsoft's newer operating systems, Windows 7 and Vista, while Firefox and Chrome work on the still popular but aging Windows XP.

A Microsoft representative addressed this discrepancy, saying "The browser is only as good as the operating system it runs on and a browser running on a ten-year-old operating system tethers the Web to the past. The time has come to stop focusing on lowest common denominator, and to really push what's possible with innovations like full hardware acceleration."

In addition to faster operation, an area in which Firefox had been falling behind Chrome, Firefox 4 brings an updated "JetPack" extension system that makes installing and updating customizations easier, an innovative Panorama view of browser tabs, and syncing of bookmarks and other settings on multiple computers.

It also brings a "do not track" option that sends a code telling sites that a user doesn't wish to have his Web-browsing history collected, as some third-party marketing sites do in order to create profiles. After an FTC statement urging the Web industry to come up with tracking protections, all three major browsers have introduced similar features. Mozilla and Google's solutions require buy-in from the advertising sites, while Microsoft's blocks the tracking right at the browser. A Microsoft representative comparing the implementations of this privacy feature, "We believe in overachieving for our customers on privacy and are delivering privacy protections that reflect how people actually use the web today."

Another push in Web browsers today is HTML5, and the new Firefox makes significant advances in support for this new standard. It implements the WebM video coded for HTML5, as opposed to the more mature H.264 codec implemented by IE9 and Safari. Firefox's director of product development Mike Beltzner told PCMag.com, "We're very dedicated to the open codec for video, which is WebM, and we're shipping that in Firefox 4. It's fantastic, gorgeous full-screen HD video." Other HTML5 features newly supported include drag-and-drop, and CSS3 transformations, and inline SVG.

Firefox 4 also adds multitouch support for Windows 7, and like IE9 can accelerate graphics rendering using a computer's graphics hardware.

In another emulation of the procedures used by Google's Chrome, this may be the last version launched with great hoopla: Firefox's directors have decided to launch multiple versions of the browser within a single year, just as Chrome is updated to a new version number every two months or so.

This article, written by Michael Muchmore, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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