What’s new in Firefox 4.0: App Tabs and Syncing and Panoramas, Oh My!

Firefox 4. It’s finally here.  If you’ve been wanting to see more from your browser, you’ve got no more time to waste, because Mozilla has been working non-stop for the last year for today.  What’s new in Firefox 4?  Where to start? From new locations for the user interface to the little things, Firefox 4 is a completely new step in the right direction.

An all-new User Interface

The Firefox interface in 4.0 has been completely redesigned.  The traditional menu that takes up an entire row has been collapsed down to a single, small button that takes up barely any space at all.  When “restored” (not maximized), the button is on a row by itself, but when maximized, it slides in with the tabs, which have been placed on top of the navigation bar:

When you open the Firefox menu, it presents you with two cleanly organized lists of all the actions you can do.  Want to open a new tab? Done. Want to enter Private Browsing? Done. Want to copy, cut, or paste? Done.  With the new menu, it’s just that simple:

Firefox Panorama: smarter tab management

Press Ctrl+Shift+E or the little four-paned button in the top-right corner. What do you see?  For me, it’s something like this:

As you can tell, there are lots of different sites I’m visiting right now.  How can I better organize these tabs?  It’s surprisingly simple: just drag and drop them into groups:

You can even name these groups. When you open one of these groups, all of your other, unrelated tabs are hidden from view.  This is a great way to ease yourself from distractions and focus on whatever you’re supposed to be doing.

Firefox Sync: your data, everywhere

Firefox Sync, first offered as an experimental addon for Firefox 3.x, has spread to all devices and platforms Firefox runs on.  It allows you to view your history, your passwords, your bookmarks, and even your open tabs on your iOS, Android, Windows, OS X, or Linux Firefox installation.

To set up Sync, just go to Firefox>Options>Sync.

JägerMonkey: making your Fox fast as a Monkey

Nothing says fast like a… monkey?  Building on the original javascript engine SpiderMonkey, JägerMonkey is much faster and even more fun than Firefox 3.x’s TraceMonkey.  In Mozilla’s tests, Firefox 4.x out-performed previous releases by almost 300-500%!

(Image from Firefox 4 Features page.)

The little things: adding up

However, there are many more things to a good user experience than just a new user interface and a couple unique features.  There are little things too.

Switch to Tab: One such little thing is Switch to Tab.  With this, you can quickly switch between tabs by typing their name into the navigation bar:

App tabs: If you’ve been using any other modern browser like Chrome or Opera, you’ll be used to these.  These let you make your tabs favicon sized:

As you can see, one of these tabs was lighter than the others.  This means that there is a new notification on that page.  These notifications include, but are not limited to, Facebook chats/messages/notifications, Gmail chats/notifications, and new Google Reader items.

A new Addons Manager: If you go to Firefox>Add-ons, you’ll be greeted with a new, full-page addons manager:

Better HTML5 video support: Although Firefox 3.x technically supported HTML5 videos, it only supported one of the major three codecs.  These are h264, WebM, and Ogg Theora.  Of those three, h264 is the most widely implemented, WebM is expected to catch on any day now, and Ogg is seldom used outside of Mozilla.com and Wikipedia.org.  However, now Firefox supports both WebM and Ogg Theora, enabling it to watch YouTube videos with nary a plugin installed.

Hardware Acceleration: Firefox 4 now supports hardware acceleration for even faster graphics processing and javascript rendering.

Conclusion

Although Firefox 4 still isn’t the fastest of browsers (hello Chrome), it’s another great upgrade to what has been the world’s second-most-used browser for quite some time, and is looking better than ever.

Download page | Windows (12 MB) | OS X (27 MB) | Linux (14 MB)

Version reviewed: v4.0

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79 comments

  1. Tim

    @Rob (Down Under): You don’t need an add-on to get FF4 to restore you last session on start-up. The functionality is built in. To activate it, just go to Options > General Tab and under “Startup”, next to “When Firefox starts:”, choose “Show my windows and tabs from last time” from the drop-down menu.

  2. Skippy

    I really enjoyed your review of Firefox 4! I found it very informative. The comments posted below are also very helpful!! I would like to thank you all for keeping everyone informed on the latest tips and tricks for new software! This is my “go to” site for new software and reviews. Keep up the good work!!!!

  3. RobAC

    @Rhino:

    Adblock Plus works for me with FF4 & Win 7 64-bit as I stated in post #63

    To get the older look and “feel” of FF3.6 all you have to do is right click beside any tab under the Navigation toolbar and place a check mark beside “Menu Bar.” You can turn off and on a number of menu type bars/features using this method.

    The File, Edit, View, History, Bookmarks, Tool, Help menu will now show up just like older versions of FF. (Which is what I prefer- I hate the new one master Menu Tab requiring multiple clicks to get to what I want.)

    I am the new FF4 update right now and my fears of all my most trusted add-ons not working are for the most part unfounded.

  4. Rhino

    #62 – Blue, I have to agree with you. It might have a few nice new features, but until I can use Adblock Plus and a few other handy extensions I often rely on then I’m sticking with 3.6. I did like the ‘paste & go’ when inserting a url in address bar and the site ID button, but losing the security padlock from lower right corner is disappointing.

    My summation: If you don’t mind unfamiliar interface layouts and losing extension functionality (at least until they are updated, then give v4 a go. If you prefer a comfortable and familiar tool then stick with 3.6.

  5. Fred Harding

    I have had to abandon Firefox 3.6 and 4.00. Every time I fill in a form and post it, Firefox crashes my computer and I have to switch off and reboot. I have Vista. I have switch to using Chrome instead with no problems and even if I use IE there is no problems. It was advised that I remove all add ons for Firefox, and the couple I had I uninstalled. I even reinstalled Firefox. Same problem.

    I loved Firefox but after 3.2…. it just crashes my system. Shame! Any ideas?

  6. Ritchie

    Fireshot is not working on v.4. -How sad! using opera on my Linux Mint, but will switch back to FF. On XP i have just installed FF4, but was using the 4-skin before. (-; Opera doesnt offer something, that is so well working like adblock. the mail-client in opera did not satisfy me, cause i could not get the mails out of the prog. had to cpoy and past or make a screenshot.

  7. Tortuga

    Hi Locutus

    Still unable to Edit my post, even though there is plenty of time left on the clock.
    Somebody on this thread mentioned earlier having the same problem.

    Dont know if there is a way of fixing it …
    Would be greatly appreciated.

    Ciao

  8. Tortuga

    @Rob (Down Under):
    Hi there Rob :)

    Sorry I’m late to the party, been busy w RL.
    On post #13 you said:
    … is to bookmark all tabs, and export to html. and then close all tabs …

    That is a LOT of work!! Plus you lose the history of ea tab. So, if you want to go back 3 notches where you have been on that tab, you cant.
    By this I’m guessing you dont know about the ‘Session Manager’ addon?
    hxxps://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/session-manager/
    hxxps://developer.mozilla.org/en/Session_store_API
    I wouldn’t know h2 ride the Fox w-out it!!
    Precisely cause like you, I have TONS of tabs open all the time.

    So, w this addon you can manage several sessions, save 1 & close it » Open another saved session, do what you need, close it » go back to the previous &/or a 3rd, 4th, or whichever you need.
    You can Group sessions in sub-groups, so all is nice, neat & organized.

    This also means, you dont have to have *ALL* the tabs you need, open at the same time. Which means lighter on resources » quicker {happier} Fox ;)

    Plus, (if) you can locate the folder in which Session Manager stores this data, you can save that folder for safekeeping/backup.
    Or, you can also copy this same folder to another profile or even another PC. If you incorporate the folder into this other Profile or PC, you can have your links ready whenever/wherever!! :)

    You can only do this w ALL instances of FF closed.
    By doing this, you trick FF into accepting all the sessions previously saved. When you reopen FF everything is there, and you are ready to go!

    This is what I’ve been doing for the longest time :D
    I’ve not yet tried it w FF4, but I’m sure I’ll find a way of doing the same thing, as I usually have way tooooo many tabs opened, and FF would be really slow!!

    I only got FF4 beta7 to 9 for a little while as a portable, just to explore a bit, but too many addons weren’t compatible yet, so I uninstalled.

    Remember, after install, you’ll probably need to go grab the 2 icons from the “Customize” menu, as often they don’t place themselves automatically on the toolbar (1 Red cross & 1 Blue diskette)

    Hope this helps.
    I’ll be around tomorrow if you – or anybody – need more info.

    Peace

  9. RobAC

    Just an FYI for everyone – I run FF 4 under Windows 7 64-bit and the following security related Add-Ons all work:

    Adblock Plus v1.3.3
    Better Privacy v1.49
    Ghostery v2.5.2
    Lastpass v1.73.0
    Lazarus form recovery v2.1.1
    Noscript 2.0.9.9
    WOT 20110323

    I get zero popups/ads/etc when I browse.
    These versions are the latest versions of these prgm at the time of this writing.

    The only two add-ons that I have that do NOT work are currently:
    FEBE
    Quickjava
    Noia (very nice icon set / theme plugin)
    Hopefully these will be fixed soon.

  10. Blue

    Changing firefox versions is always traumatic because of extension problems but there usually is a payoff. Not this time. IMHO Firefox 4 is a complete fail; giving nothing and taking away both familiarity and (for now) needed extensions.

    It started when I began noticing ads all over the place in Firefox 4. Ad block plus, it told me, wasn’t compatible with FF4. Lots of alternatives, right? Uh, no. At least none that actually worked well. Turns out, there are a *lot* of ads out there and it is pretty obnoxious. (I always wondered how HuffingtonPost made money, now I know. Given their recent developments, I’m very glad to know that I haven’t given The Greek Bearing Gifts one red dime.) Unfortunately, ad blocking wasn’t the only problem.

    Bottom-line: I’m riding the Firefox 3.616 train until it finally breaks, then I’ll switch to Google Chrome full-time. Nice job, Mozilla (not!). Why is it that programmers inevitably screw the pooch EVERY time? They make something good then they wreck it.

  11. o(o.o)o

    I don’t get why there’s so much hype about this firefox version. There’s really nothing new implemented in it that is not on other browsers already in one form or another. Speedwise, well, I don’t see any noticeable difference compared to the previous version. Fact is both Opera and Chrome load pages faster for me on both my desktop and laptop. Of course user mileage varies from system to sytem so my “testing” is only valid for me and my puters.

    Curious though about how secure Firefox sync is. I believe Opera did not offer synchronization of passwords across devices/computers due to it’s inherent security implication.

  12. Lew

    Just tried FF4 on Windows 7. If you have been using un-MHT to save web pages you will find this is not possible with the orange Firefox button. You have to turn the Menu Bar on (which replaces the Firefox button) to access “Save as MHT”.

    If you have gotten used to opening new links with a right click/open in new tab you will find yourself opening new windows instead. The positions of new tab/new window have been reversed. New tab is now first instead of second. You will have to reprogram your brain.

    AdBlock Plus, Ghostery and Better Privacy are compatible with FF4.

  13. Lew

    The fancy orange Menu button is not available on XP.

    The green status bar in the lower left of the screen has disappeared. Firefox Help states this may be caused by some add-ons. Get it back with the add-on Status-4-Evar.

    Uncheck “Tabs On Top” to put the tabs back below the URL bar where they belong.

  14. Rob (Down Under)

    @Tim:
    Thanks for the info.
    That was one of my pre-requisites.
    The other two are –
    – It always restores last sessions Tabs
    – It can save web pages as .mht (probably will be using unMHT if it works in FF4)
    Thanks again,
    Rob

  15. Jyo

    @Soulflare3: I would take that statement back if I were you. It seems after doing more research FF may have been the first one to introduce this interface way back, which opera also did a day later. Of course this was during the dev builds I believe.

  16. Rob (Down Under)

    NoScript ?
    I feel safest browsing with FF and NoScript.
    Does it work with FF4 ?
    Is it needed with FF 4 ?
    I suppose I am asking, does FF 4 have similar protection built in (thus NoScript is not required) ?

  17. mikeart

    Having tested ff4 the past weeks, I guess I am used to it, but it does irritate me that Chrome is still faster, or is it ? does Chrome have the advantage just because it is google and can access web-pages faster, if someone knows the answer to this I would love to know why, I will stay with firefox as far as I am concerned a small loss in speed compared to Chrome I can live with.

  18. Locutus
    Author/

    @Jyo: ?? For me it’s still Google. Maybe you got the Bing toolbar installed, which automatically sets the search engine to Bing.
    After uninstalling said annoyance (you don’t have to), just go to Firefox>Options and reset your homepage. Then go to the search bar dropdown and select Google. Lastly, go to about:config and reset keyword.URL.

  19. jayesstee

    @Locutus: Thanks for the info. Now had FF 4.0 for 24 hours.
    First impressions are that it fast (in spite of my large Bookmark, Speed Dial” and “Read It Later” payload.
    It seems brighter, less cluttered too.
    At first, I missed the “save the tabs” request of FF 3.6n until I found the trick – use the default homepage and you get a “Restore Previous Session” hyperlink – neat!
    BTW it accepted all the useful add-ons, only rejected a few and these were all ones that I had disabled with a view to removing anyway.

  20. Mike

    Does anyone know:

    Does FF now have the ability to open up a new session in one instance of the program (not just a new tab or window), as does IE? So that, for example, one can open up different Gmail mailboxes in the same instance of FF. I’ve been using different FF instances and profiles to do this up til now, but it adds extra complexity (keeping bookmarks synced, etc.).

    Thanks–

  21. phoenix_rising

    @Locutus: Ok, got it worked out now. It was the Super Tab add-on … hadn’t touched the settings on it, but it had a mind of its own. Disabled it and all is good again. So thanks Locutus! As always, a big help!

  22. Tim

    Please disregard my last comment. I’ve just figured out that the new Firefox menu only becomes available in XP after you hide the main menu (because hiding something to make it visible is not the least bit confusing!). Why this isn’t automatic is beyond me.

  23. Tim

    I installed FF4.0 RC (release candidate). At first, a lot of my add-ons were disabled, but in the week or so since, most of them have updated and are now working. (If the makers of FireBug are reading this, pull your finger out will ya!)

    My only question is about the menu of which you speak. On my system running WinXP SP3, I don’t see the Opera style menu in the top-left. I still see the normal old FF menus. Am I being discriminated against because I’m still running XP or what?

  24. phoenix_rising

    @ Locutus: Thanks for the swift reply. Appreciated. But I think I might be a bit thick – I have added the bookmarks button to the toolbar and it opens just fine … however, I cannot see “import” anywhere. I jut have a search bar at the top and underneath it the bookmarks toolbar, the bookmarks menu and unsorted bookmarks. What am I missing here? Re tabs: Hmmm, don’t think that is it, however when I do the pin tab thing, it does exactly what is happening – makes a small tab on the far left. But this is happening with normal-sized tabs … so say I have five open, all at normal size, and then I open a sixth – bang, all of a sudden all of them are made tiny (like the pinned ones you mentioned) and pushed to the far left side of the toolbar. However, if I close a tab, all go back to normal size again. It’s bugging me because I have now accidentally closed the wrong itty-bitty tab countless times. Wish I could work out how to stop it happening.

  25. Locutus
    Author/

    @phoenix_rising: To back up your bookmarks just hit the Bookmarks button (near the home button, shaped like a book with a star on it)>Show All Bookmarks or hit Ctrl+Shift+B. Then it’s the normal Bookmarks manager. Just go to Import and Backup and save it like that.
    Do you mean App Tabs? Those are the icons that are just the favicons of the site and take up maybe 20 pixels. Those are formed by right clicking a tab and selecting Create App Tab, but I think middle clicking may also do it. Just right click and click Unpin tab if that is the case, or send a screenshot and I’ll take a look.

    @Jyo: But only 0.5% of the world would get that reference.

    @Pandora: I’ve just been right clicking them since day one, so it’s no loss of functionality to me. However, given that this is the Internet, I’m sure that sooner or later, it will be an option, either from the Firefox devs, from some hidden, already present config option, or from an add-on someone’s making as I type this.

  26. phoenix_rising

    Hi everyone. I’m enjoying the faster speed of FF4 – makes a nice change. But a couple of questions: How do you backup bookmarks? Previously I could go into the Bookmarks tab and go into Organise Bookmarks, and from there I could do a quick backup. But that is not there any more. So how do you back them up in FF4? Secondly, it has this annoying habit of shrinking my tabs into little tiny tabs on the far left of the tab bar when more than a few are opened. This is actually irritating me a lot. I have not changed any of my tab options, and can’t seem to find a way to stop this happening. Does any wise soul know how to resolve this?

  27. Pandora

    2nd thoughts ….
    Status bar seems to have been combined (or now called) the new add-ons bar [ Ctr;+/] and the site/progress stuff pops on a tab to the left …
    Ctrl+F to get a search box – and used to share with the status bar (new addon bar ) now pops a new bar [compressing the content window ] …. very not good

    back/forward buttons have lost the drop down history – left click them … but not intuitive

    Maybe it will look better tomorrow

  28. Pandora

    Just installed ….. and its different !
    Probably me – but I lost a custom toolbar along the way [easy enough to recreate but …]
    Several add-ons upgraded on the upgrade – neat. 5 didnt make it [ biggest loss at this time is screengrab]

    As I have only used for the time its taken to write this the jury is out – but 1st impression is a NO! now a wow how cool!
    – I run alot of add-ons, I have custom toolbars, I like to just click on things rather than go through menus/ dropdowns… so I give up alot of the screen for convenience, to regain 1 line or 2 is neither here nor there [for me]

    Status bar seems to have gone too … will investigate that after posting
    Add-on manager is different [why ? before it was so simple. – But may discover]

    Maybe the underlying architecture has changed and it is something to build on … and as I said its early days . Just hope it hasnt gone the same way as TB 3. and changed for the sake of change [ or to go minialistic and look like chrome – jeeze next it will look like IE ! ]

    Off for a serious look around /later

  29. Locutus
    Author/

    @Ignacio H.: It’s not an exact copy, it still says “Firefox”!

    But the time I tried to switch to Chrome I was only able to stay a few weeks. It was not at all designed for user interaction and instead designed only for speed. I did not like it at all. (This was when Chrome 7 was new.)

  30. Ignacio H.

    Firefox 4.0 is definitely much better than its previous version, but it is a copy of Google Chrome (the design, the menu in one button, tab management, synch, apps…). Most features have been out there in Chrome for a long time… Let alone the speed in Chrome…

    So I would say: go Chrome instead!

  31. Locutus
    Author/

    @BuddahBoy: What do you mean it looks nothing like the pictures above and instead looks like the 4 beta? To tell you the truth, I took those pictures when Firefox was at beta 12, so it must be something to do with your beta version/operating system. What operating system do you have?

  32. BuddahBoy

    My 4 beta ran a 15+mb upgrade to 4.0 but it looks exactly like the 4beta – nothing like the pics you showed above – do I need to uninstall, download and reinstall? Or is there …

    Thanks
    Ron

  33. Akhenax

    What about load time? On my Windows 7 64 bit system, it takes approximately 32 seconds to start up Firefox after a fresh reboot. Has this increased at all, taking into account different hardware configurations?

  34. Rob (Down Under)

    @Locutus:
    Thanks,
    I will save your instructions for the future.
    On reflection (my PC has been running like a dog for a while, probably due to the plethora of FF tabls).
    So I painfully closed it all down, and restarted Windows.
    I started the cooking (food) process in the meantime, and reflected that the most ‘KISS’ thing for me to do, is to bookmark all tabs, and export to html. and then close all tabs. And once FF4 is in, just open up the bookmark html page into the first tab in the new FF.
    Sorry for not getting back to you quick enough (to save your investigation time).
    Over the years, I worship ‘KISS’ more and more (and MS ignore it more and more).
    Thanks,
    Rob

    .

  35. Locutus
    Author/

    @Rob (Down Under): Ok, copy down these instructions.

    1) Determine where the Firefox 3 installation is stored. It’s probably in C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox or Program Files (x86).

    2) Open up a command prompt. Run this command:

    “\path\to\firefox” -P -no-remote

    Include the quotes and replace \path\to\firefox with the installation folder from step 1.

    3) You’ll see a “profile manager” open up. Create a new profile called Firefox 4. If Firefox 3 opens after making this profile, close it.

    4) Now, install Firefox 4 to a new location (and don’t let it open). Delete any shortcuts it may create. Now make a shortcut on the desktop like this:

    “path/to/firefox4″ -P “Firefox 4″ -no-remote

    5) Now edit any existing Firefox 3 shortcuts to this shortcut code:

    “/path/to/firefox3″ -P “Default User” -no-remote

    That should work.

  36. Rob (Down Under)

    @Locutus:

    PS I tried to ‘Click to Edit’ but it all went charcoal gray.

    The reason that I wanted to run two versions (for a month or two), was to have a fresh start in FF4 (no existing Tabs)
    That way I could fire up FF3 every so often, and clear a Tab or two, and perhaps ‘move’ (cough) one or two across to FF4

  37. Locutus
    Author/

    @Rob (Down Under): Yup, there are always portable versions. However, this particular one hasn’t been created yet–the creation of a portable version involves 1) waiting for the full release and 2) modifying the proper code. I’m sure it’ll be out within a week!

  38. Rob (Down Under)

    @Locutus:
    Thanks, you have frightened me off from running two versions.
    In the past, have I seen mention of portable versions ?

    Regarding March 22
    I was not picking on you, as I presumed that you had the official Release.
    I was giving the first post (Farrukh), a ‘heads up’

  39. Locutus
    Author/

    @Farrukh: Yes, it is the final release. It’s not available from the Mozilla site, but it is currently available from the Mozilla FTP servers, which is why I have each version linked but not the download page.

    @digish: Hopefully more IE9 than Netscape. :)

    @Bosco: It’s been working fine for me since I started using it–way back at Beta 11!

    @Rob (Down Under): March 22nd is the official release date but it’s already available for download. It is possible to open FF4 along side in another session by changing the install folder and then using a command line flag. Comment if you go that way; otherwise, if you have Firefox set up to save your tabs, you can simply save the tabs, or you can force Firefox to close from the Processes list in Windows Task Manager to make it recover. That’s the way I’d go–download FF4, crash FF3.6, install FF4, recover tabs.

    @Refpeuk: Firefox 4.0 has been released.

    @jbyrdmor: Firefox 4 has a lot of good long term strategic extension decisions built into it that enable much better extensions to be built, but unfortunately it means they’ll take longer to port to FF4. I don’t remember the nitty-gritty–I’m not an extension developer–but I do remember that, if designed right, certain extensions will no longer require restarts.

  40. jbyrdmor

    I recently installed and uninstalled the FF 4.0 Beta version because half of my favorite add-ons stopped working. BTW, respecting the placement of the tabs on top of the navigation bar, that’s a configurable setting. It is the default, but a right click opens a menu to choose where you want your tabs and if you want ´em back in their usual position below, you can opt for that.

  41. Rob (Down Under)

    I believe 22nd March is the release date.

    I have been a bad boy, and have sooooo many Tabs open.
    Does anyone know if I can install FF 4, and keep it separate from my current FF ?

    Thanks,
    Rob