Firefox 4.0 Beta 1 Review (Kubuntu)

7 Jul

Hurray for reviewing more beta software! Today, it’s going to be the new Firefox browser that will eventually become the 4.0 release. I’m reviewing on the same Kubuntu-based netbook I reviewed KDE 4.5 Beta 2 on: a Dell Mini 10v. I haven’t installed it to /usr, but I’m running it from a local directory instead, using the version grabbed off the official download page. Today, I won’t be griping too much about bugs and instead focus on the things that jumped out most immediately to me. Before we start, though, I’m also going to warn you: there’s still no KDE integration here, despite previous mock-ups, but I’m not going to complain about that. Anyway, here we go!

First: SPEED!

Google Chrome users might want to give the good ol’e Firefox another look. I noticed massive, MASSIVE improvements in start-up and use speed over 3.6 – in fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say it starts up about as quickly as Google Chrome on the same computer. I don’t know what they’ve done, or what was so severely broken in 3.6 to make it so much slower, but the speed improvements are a welcome addition.

Rendering pages was also much faster, as was switching, tearing out and replacing tabs. I went to the good ol’e Google Chrome Experiments room and for most of them, Firefox flew right through, despite my best attempts to cripple it. The only test that made it lag noticeably was the Darkroom test, a full-fledged image editor based on HTML5, though considering the complexity (and the speed of previous Firefox versions), overall Firefox 4.0 Beta 1 performs spectacularly. It’s certainly extremely fast during everyday use, and speed shouldn’t be an issue for many users any more.

Appearance Improvements

Speed isn’t the only nice addition to this Firefox beta. There are a few appearance improvements, though not as many nor as noticeable as the appearance improvements for new versions of Windows. Opening new tabs is done with a smooth animation, though unfortunately there’s no such animation when shifting tabs across the tab bar – you still get the faded dinky little preview box thing.

The Add-ons area has also been revamped. It’s like someone at Mozilla said, "Hey, add-ons and customizability are our main advantages, so lets give them more focus." So, when you click Tools –> Add-ons, it opens a new tab with the new add-ons dialogue.

Picture of the add-ons area
The new add-ons tab

Also available is the option to stick tabs over the address bar. This isn’t the default behaviour in Linux, for the sake of consistency with other applications, but it’s also a bit ugly without the option of hiding the menu bar. I’d actually like to be able to hide the menu bar and put tabs on top, since – with the status bar then removed – it could save yarns of space. Additionally, tabs now come with a loading wheel when a page is loading, making the status bar more redundant and giving me more reason to hide it. This also lets you see the progress of individual tabs, which is nifty.

Image of tabs on top
Tabs on top. Also notice the loading wheel.

I’m not sure I like it at the moment. It looks great on Windows, where they’ve removed the menu bar in favour of a button, but not so much here. Maybe this will change, and I certainly hope so.

Functional Improvements

There are also a few improvements to how you can actually use Firefox: the Awesome bar now comes with the ability to search through open tabs and windows, switching to them if you select and click the option.

Searching through tabs with the awesome bar
Searching through tabs

They’ve also introduced a Bookmarks button next to the search button – it lets you customize bookmarks (with the, "Organize bookmarks" option), open the bookmarks sidebar, switch to toolbar bookmarks, or open any of your bookmarks straight away (obviously). While we’re talking about bookmarks, let me whine a little about something: the (totally awesome) Awesome bar has a bookmark button to let you quickly bookmark the current page, but it still adds the bookmarks straight to the completely useless, "Unsorted Bookmarks" folder. Why can’t I choose which folder the bookmark goes in by default? Why can’t I just click the star and see the bookmark pop-up in the bookmarks toolbar automatically? It’s a small thing, but it’s always annoyed me a bit.

Anyway, you’ll probably have also noticed a, "Feedback" menu button in the top right – it’s a temporary add-on for beta versions of Firefox, with a simple, "I liked…" and, "I didn’t like…" kind of feedback option choice.

The Feedback buttonp
The feedback menu items

There’s also options for User Interface studies, though none were available when I was reviewing this. Bummer.

If I were one of the guys at Mozilla, I’d actually be tempted to keep the feedback button around after the final release, but to not include it in the default set-up, instead allowing users to add it through the toolbar configuration window.

Conclusion

Overall, this incomplete glimpse into the future of Firefox was a very positive experience. For me personally, a lack of KDE integration was a bit of a bummer, but nothing was genuinely worse than before. It felt generally stable and usable for everyday use, despite some evidence of incomplete feature additions. Previous gripes about speed and possibly space consumption should likely be revised, if not now then certainly with Firefox 4.0 final.

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As usual, typed up in the fantastic little Blogilo blogging client.

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One Response to “Firefox 4.0 Beta 1 Review (Kubuntu)”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Latest Firefox Improvements: Improved Location Bar, Panorama Tabs And More « Between Software, Unicycles and Kicking Ass… - September 30, 2010

    […] will be quite interested in. First, I won’t cover stuff I’ve already covered in my previous review, so go check it out first if you haven’t already. Now, lets dig […]

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