Firefox’s latest version matches Google’s Chrome on many fronts but lacks Group Policy-based management support
Firefox 4, the first full point release of Mozilla‘s popular open-source web browser in nearly three years, combines user-interface, performance and web-standards support enhancements with new provisions for making user data both more and less accessible across the network.
On one hand, the browser ships with a newly integrated Firefox Sync feature, which enables users to synchronise bookmarks, preferences, browser state and passwords between Firefox and Firefox Mobile browser instances through a server either hosted by Mozilla or self-hosted.
On the other hand, Firefox 4 builds on the private browsing features included in previous releases with new ‘do not track’ functions for users concerned with the trails they may be leaving as they traverse the web.
As a speedy, modern, cross-platform web browser, Firefox 4 is well worth evaluating for any organisation, particularly those with a heterogeneous mix of client operating systems.
On this multiplatform front, however, organisations should also keep an eye on Google’s Chrome, which tends to match Firefox in features and performance, and offers Group Policy-based management support that Firefox 4 lacks.
For those already running earlier versions of Firefox, version 4 will be well worth the upgrade – provided that any add-ons on which users rely are compatible with the new version.
Firefox 4.0, which I tested in release candidate form, is available for free download at http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox, and comes in versions for Windows, OS X and Linux.
Anecdotally, the speed differences were certainly noticeable to me when browsing with the older and newer Firefox versions, bringing Mozilla’s browser in line with what I’ve come to expect from Google’s Chrome web browser.
Firefox 4 has also come closer to Google’s browser in its appearance. Many of the user-interface changes in the latest Firefox edition are aimed at reducing the amount of real estate the browser occupies, putting more emphasis on the web content.
For instance, Firefox 4 does away with its “status” bar, which ran across the bottom of the application. The most useful job of the status bar was to provide a spot to show the web address attached to hovered-over page links – which are crucial for spotting suspicious addresses before clicking through to them. In version 4, with the status bar gone, page links would simply appear in the former status bar area when I hovered over them.
Also, like Google’s Chrome, the tab bar in Firefox 4 moves to the top of the interface, and the traditional menu bar (File, Edit, View, etc.) can collapse into a single “Firefox” button – a much thriftier use of space for these seldom-clicked menu items.
I particularly appreciated these UI changes while testing Firefox 4 on a netbook machine, where vertical space is in short supply.
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