Web Browser Grand Prix 4: Firefox 4 Goes Final

What's New In Firefox 4?

What isn't new in Firefox 4? This is major overhaul from Firefox 3.x. Mozilla essentially created an entirely new foundation on which to base its future development. Starting with this version, Firefox is on a rapid release schedule. Versions 5, 6, and 7 are slated to appear before the year ends.

Brand New UI

At first glance, Firefox 4 looks a whole lot like Opera. And like the menu button in Opera, the new Firefox button replaces the menu bar and organizes browser functions into a “Start menu” of sorts.

The file menu, help menu, options, add-ons, downloads, and history have all been consolidated into the new Firefox menu. Only essential controls, such as back, forward, refresh, new tab, close tab, home, the bookmarks menu, and the new tab grouping feature are directly accessible at all times. Mozilla actually did a pretty good job of figuring out what doesn't need to always be on the screen.

A whole lot has been changed in the Firefox UI, but one feature that still remains is the search box. While the address bar is becoming an all-in-one tool for URL entry and searches in other Web browsers, Firefox retains the dedicated search box. This should please anyone who likes to switch between search engines for different tasks (like online shoppers). If you prefer to use a single bar, the address bar defaults to Google search if terms are entered instead of a URL. This is a great compromise, no features are lost, and the "new way" is still implemented.

The Best Tab Bar There Is

The tab bars of different browsers have different ways of handling tab crowding. Chrome and Opera keep it simple; the tabs just keep getting smaller and smaller as more tabs are opened.

When Internet Explorer 9 gets too full, some tabs are hidden. Clickable arrows on either side of the tab bar appear for navigating through the strip of tabs. Alternatively, Safari puts an arrow at the right edge of the tab bar; clicking on it displays a drop-down list of tabs that didn't fit in the bar.

Firefox 4 does all of this. The tabs get smaller, but only up to a point where the labels are still useful. When the left and right arrows do appear, they can be held down for scrolling, or double-clicked to quickly slide to the first or last tab. In case you don't feel like scrolling, a drop-down list on the right edge provides quick access to all the tabs. It's fantastic. But Mozilla has yet another unique approach to tab management.

Tab Groups

The ability to group tabs beyond opening multiple windows has proven to be a popular feature on every Web browser through plug-ins, add-ons, and extensions. Firefox 4 has this feature baked right in, and the implementation is fascinating. Like the Firefox “Start menu,” tab groups are also reminiscent of operating system controls. Just as applications can be moved between virtual desktops in Linux (or Spaces in MacOSX), tabs are dragged into groups in Firefox 4.

Make no mistake, these groups are not just separate windows to the operating system. Once you utilize tab groups, Firefox gets its own sort of window management. Groups of tabs can be switched between in the tab group screen.

To create a new tab group, open more than one tab and click on the tab grouping icon to the left of the minimize button. Click and drag one of the tabs out of the box and onto the workspace (the big glass area in Windows 7). From this screen, new tabs can be added to groups and groups can be given a name, re-sized, moved around the workspace, and deleted. Tabs can be moved to different groups, dragged onto the background to create to a new group, and searched for by name. Essentially, tab groups is a virtual workspace manager for the Web browser.

Different Strokes

In an attempt to emphasize tabbed browsing, Mozilla switched the position of New Window and New Tab. In previous versions, the New Window option was listed first in the file menu, Firefox 4's new Firefox menu lists New Tab first. This minor menu change is causing frustration among some long-time users. However, with tab groups, the only use I can think of for a separate window would be to view two sites side-by-side with Windows 7's snap feature, and tabs are still easily torn off into their own window.

If for some reason you prefer the old Firefox 3.x UI, that can also be arranged. Firefox 4 gives you the option to return to the old menu bar instead of using the new Firefox menu. The bookmarks bar, add-on bar, history sidebar, and bookmarks sidebar can all be restored as well. Even the tab bar can be put back on the bottom. And just like every copy of Firefox, the toolbar arrangement can be totally customized by the user.

Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
156 comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
    Top Comments
  • LuckyDucky7
    Adblock Plus, Adblock Plus, Adblock Plus.

    That pretty much sums it up. No amount of optimization will help you when it comes to loading web pages if you have a large amount of adframes and such to slow you down.

    So have your super-fast IE9: I bet the ads will appreciate loading quick too.
    14
  • Other Comments
  • reprotected
    Because people can't wait for half a second. I never had a single rendering problem with any of my browsers.
    5
  • LuckyDucky7
    Adblock Plus, Adblock Plus, Adblock Plus.

    That pretty much sums it up. No amount of optimization will help you when it comes to loading web pages if you have a large amount of adframes and such to slow you down.

    So have your super-fast IE9: I bet the ads will appreciate loading quick too.
    14
  • Anonymous
    @ericburnby

    you must enjoy all those ads, in real world the difference in speed is negligible, but i sure has hell appreciate a rock stable browser, which is not what IE is, now saying that i have to say IE9 is definitely light years ahead of it's predecessor

    have used all 3 browser and found FF to be the most stable by far
    -4
  • Anonymous
    @ StableBrowser,

    You must enjoy being an ignorant Fx fanboy. IE9 comes with adblocking features without needing any extensions.
    0
  • nd22
    IE9 is indeed fast, but my question relates to Safari, a browser created specifically for Mac, not for Windows. On Mac Safari is incredible fast, why Tom’s did not tested Safari on the platform which it was designed for?
    0
  • Anonymous
    @luckyducky7

    "Adblock Plus, Adblock Plus, Adblock Plus.

    That pretty much sums it up. No amount of optimization will help you when it comes to loading web pages if you have a large amount of adframes and such to slow you down.

    So have your super-fast IE9: I bet the ads will appreciate loading quick too."

    Not if you use tracking protection.
    1
  • adamovera
    nd22IE9 is indeed fast, but my question relates to Safari, a browser created specifically for Mac, not for Windows. On Mac Safari is incredible fast, why Tom’s did not tested Safari on the platform which it was designed for?

    It is my hope that we'll be able to do that. Hopefully for the next major Safari release. If that's at the same time as Lion, then we might have to use the latest updated Snow Leopard for time reasons.
    1
  • jsowoc
    Re: Acid3
    This is why Firefox doesn't get 100:
    http://limi.net/articles/firefox-acid3/
    1
  • stm1185
    I loaded up IE today because the Chase website gives me problems with Chrome, and I was surprised by how fast IE9 is now. Loading pages seemingly as fast or faster then chrome. I even thought of switching it to my primary browser, but the lack of Ad-block support killed it. It is a necessary feature and every browser should have it or something like it these days.
    2
  • andy5174
    The latest Chrome is indeed pretty fast, but I just can't live without Tab Mix Plus which is only available to Firefox. Someone please write a similar add-on for Chrome!!!
    2
  • dragonsqrrl
    jsowocRe: Acid3This is why Firefox doesn't get 100:http://limi.net/articles/firefox-acid3/

    Good to know, thanks.
    -1
  • PreferLinux
    You didn't mention "App Tabs" in Firefox!!!
    0
  • lancelot123
    Are Firefox fanboys and others really too stupid to realize that IE9 (as well as other versions) have adblocking "addons" you can get? Too bad ie7pro will never work with IE9, I loved that addon.
    1
  • epileptic
    @stm1185 IE9 does support ad blocking. It's called tracking protection. You can write a tracking protection list that will block the ads you usually see or get a more thorough one from the web. Either way, that feature is there. I personally just converted my Opera list and rolled with it.

    @adamovera There's a mistake in your last chart. IE9 should be weak in HTML5 conformance and you're listing it as a winner.
    1
  • Anonymous
    There's something terribly wrong in your test results regarding chrome.
    My 10.0.648.151 do much better, especially since I forced native OpenGL ES support rather than ANGLE.
    Psychedelic - 1709rpm (hd4670@cat11.2 &A64 X2 4400+ 2.3@2.8GHz)
    Aquarium - 58-60fps
    particles 58fps
    HWACCEL - 60+
    html5 vector 40+
    html5 bitmap 50+
    Please try to use
    --enable-webgl --ignore-gpu-blacklist --use-gl=desktop flags (and make sure you have canvas accel enabled by page about:flags too). Retake some of those test with that and see yourselves what it changes.
    1
  • Tamz_msc
    I've been a Firefox user since version 2, and Firefox is undoubtedly the best version yet.I use Firefox 4 because its fast, highly customizable, responsive, supports the latest web standards and technologies, has thousands of extensions and on my computer it(along with Opera) is the most stable browser, and as you yourself have stated:

    Quote:
    With that said, Firefox hasn't been a speed demon in a very long time. It's the rock-solid browser. During the 40-tab memory testing, we get see how reliably pages load. Firefox is the only Web browser that consistently loads every single element on every single page all at once, correctly. Each of the other browsers require at least one reload to fix a broken ad or or some other element. Also notice how few times Mozilla's browser is listed in the weak column. With version 4, Firefox is still the rock-solid browser. Which is what it needs to be with that kind of market share - the name of the game is stability over speed when you've got that many users.


    Here are my reasons why I don't use the other browsers:

    1. Chrome - Its true that its very fast, but speed isn't the only thing.It crashes on my computer when you have multiple pages open containing flash.It has the second best addon gallery(the Web store is also very nice), but many of its addons are poor copies of Firefox addons, and it has limited options for customizing.

    2. IE 9 - Its also very fast, but it also has crashed on me a few times and there are virtually no addons at present.

    3. Opera - Its a very good browser, but I find it a bit awkward to use.Its slowly catching up in terms of number of addons, but it cannot render some pages correctly.On my computer, it has problems with Tom's Hardware:

    https://ptjp4w.bay.livefilestore.com/y1pW7J0mRZlCb8T4BHygV4LS_TP-8Kjmljz2XOdMfJ-2tAI2uAQ3kcsFE_uHTv0UHcr1GJrBmuiuUSijne3vvdMF4Uv72_TbbdX/Capture.PNG?psid=1

    4. Safari - As a Windows user, I really don't care.
    -2
  • memadmax
    FF4+NoScript addon and be happy...
    -2
  • aznshinobi
    Why are all you guys hating on FF? Like Tamz, I've used FF for a long time, w/o any addons and it works beautifully. I though FF4 was a huge improvement over 3, though 3 was pretty solid. I have yet to use IE9, but I was never a fan of the IE browsers to be honest. I always felt... Like it lacked something. But FF4 has kept me on the FF train and I think I'll stay with it until otherwise.
    -2
  • yyk71200
    For the most part, speed differences are negligible. FF is a very well rounded browser. It is responsive and has lots of extensions: ad block, no script, this: http://www.downloadhelper.net/ , etc.
    -1
  • rainwilds
    Exactly! There is just no comparison to the lovely FireFox addons. This test may test 'millisecond' speeds but misses the all important functionality features.
    -1