What Else Is New In Firefox 4?
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 Sync||Firefox Sync||Opera Link|
|Platforms||Windows, Mac OS X, Linux||Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android, iOS||Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android, iOS|
|Features||Apps, Autofill, Bookmarks, Extensions, Passwords, Preferences, and Themes||Bookmarks, Passwords, Preferences, History, and Tabs||Bookmarks, Bookmarks Bar, Typed History, Speed Dial, Notes, Search Engines, and Content Blocker Rules|
|Security||Password||Password and Activation Code or Decryption Key||Password|
|Ease-Of-Use||Multiple Chrome Installations||Multiple 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
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.