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Web Browser Grand Prix 4: Firefox 4 Goes Final

What Else Is New In Firefox 4?

Firefox Sync

With Firefox 4, Mozilla now has the ability to sync data from different installations of Firefox on separate machines. This is similar to the sync feature in Google Chrome, Opera Link, and the popular multi-browser add-on XMarks. Let's compare the syncing services of the three Web browsers:

Chrome SyncFirefox SyncOpera Link
PlatformsWindows, Mac OS X, LinuxWindows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android, iOSWindows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android, iOS
FeaturesApps, Autofill, Bookmarks, Extensions, Passwords, Preferences, and ThemesBookmarks, Passwords, Preferences, History, and TabsBookmarks, Bookmarks Bar, Typed History, Speed Dial, Notes, Search Engines, and Content Blocker Rules
SecurityPasswordPassword and Activation Code or Decryption KeyPassword
Ease-Of-UseMultiple Chrome InstallationsMultiple Firefox Installations, and physical access to an already synced machine or decryption key file (per installation)Multiple Opera Installations

For the number of supported platforms, it's a tie between Firefox Sync and Opera Link. The winning service in terms of features is also debatable. By looking at the chart, Chrome and Opera (you can download Opera 11.01 here) each tout seven features, and Firefox only lists five. But not really. Apps are unique to Chrome and ChromeOS, so that's not really an important staple to Web browsers. Also, themes are extensions in other browsers; they'd be the same thing elsewhere. That brings Chrome's comparable feature set down to five. Opera's Notes feature is unique to Opera, and can be accomplished with add-ons in any other browser. And since the bookmarks bar is affected by the actual bookmarks in the bookmarks bar folder in any other browser, listing them both is somewhat redundant. Typed history and the Speed Dial both factor in to the history, but put together only add up to a portion of a full browsing history. That takes Opera down to 3.5 comparable features. The five features of Firefox Sync are all valid and comparable to any Web browser. This means a split between Chrome Sync and Firefox Sync, where the deciding factor is based on the preference of extension sync (Chrome) versus tab sync (Firefox).

Perceived security is definitely stronger with Firefox Sync, which relies on a decryption file for activation. However that same security measure causes Firefox Sync to struggle with ease-of-use. Chrome and Opera both win in that department, requiring only a single installation per computer, along with a password. Besides additional installations and a password, Firefox Sync also requires the decryption file (or access to an already-synced installation) in order to get set up on each additional system.

Overall, Firefox Sync comes out on top. It has the multi-platform support of Opera, the competitive feature set of Chrome, and heavier security than them both. The only real downsides to Firefox Sync is the added hassle required to configure it, and the lack of sync for add-ons.

Under The Hood

Firefox 4 debuts the second version of the open source Gecko layout engine. This is the engine that powers Firefox, SeaMonkey, and Epiphany, just to name a few. Also making its first appearance is the new JaegerMonkey JavaScript engine. As previously stated, HTML5 and WebGL are both supported by Mozilla's latest browser.

Overall, Firefox 4 comes off more like a Web browsing platform than a traditional Web browser. The UI is sufficiently minimalist, without burying the most used browsing controls in hidden menus. Meanwhile, the new Firefox menu logically consolidates all the other functions into one place. The search bar is still present if you want it, but the address bar does double duty if you don't. Despite the change in direction, the toolbars are still fully customizable and the old-style UI is only a few check boxes away. Firefox is now cloud-friendly with the addition of Firefox Sync, and every facet of the tab organization scheme is phenomenal. But with so much focus on new features and drastic changes in design, how well does it perform? Let's find out.

  • reprotected
    Because people can't wait for half a second. I never had a single rendering problem with any of my browsers.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • @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
    Reply
  • @ StableBrowser,

    You must enjoy being an ignorant Fx fanboy. IE9 comes with adblocking features without needing any extensions.
    Reply
  • 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?
    Reply
  • @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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • jsowoc
    Re: Acid3
    This is why Firefox doesn't get 100:
    http://limi.net/articles/firefox-acid3/
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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!!!
    Reply