March 26, 2011

Firefox 4 Review Round-Up: The Critics Weigh In

Firefox 4 is finally here, and its reviews are rolling in. Mozilla's new browser is its slickest yet, and adds new features like Tab Groups and Do Not Track. But with the recent launches of Internet Explorer 9 and Chrome 10, do critics think the latest version of Firefox can handle the competition? Let's check out highlights of the reviews.


Firefox 4 is loaded with features to help you manage tabs, the most impressive of which, according to Ars Technica's Ryan Paul, is "Tab Groups." This feature lets you group frequently used pages together by category, and then call them up at will.

Another new tab management feature is "Switch to Tab." When typing in a URL, this feature lets you jump to the website you're trying to reach if it's already open in another tab. Critics liked the idea but said it needs improvement. "Any search results that match open tabs get mixed in with your history list, previous searches and so on," Preston Gralla writes for Computerworld. "So it's difficult to see at a glance if your matches are in open tabs."

Firefox 4 moves the add-on manager from a pop-up window to a browser tab. "This is much more easy on the eyes and makes finding and installing or removing add-ons and browser themes more fluid," Christina Warren writes for Mashable.

 Warren says add-ons have been a blessing and a curse for Firefox, because while they've been largely responsible for the browser's popularity, they can also hurt performance and ding Firefox's reputation. Mozilla's trying to fix this by letting add-ons use lighter, more stable technologies like HTML, CSS and JavaScript. "Still, at this stage, most major Firefox add-ons still use the traditional add-on API and require a browser restart when updated, installed or uninstalled," Warren writes.


Still, most critics didn't have any glaring complaints with Firefox 4's performance, and said the browser easily beat its predecessor. "In hands-on experiences, one of the best performance differences between Firefox 3.6 and the current version is that Firefox 4 crashes far, far less," CNet's Seth Rosenblatt wrote.


As Rosenblatt notes for CNet, Firefox 4 adds HTTP Strict Transport Security, which tells the browser to automatically create a secure connection when logging into a website. The new Content Security Policy is designed to block cross-site scripting attacks.

But the most publicized security feature is Do Not Track, which attempts to tell websites not to follow you around the Internet, thus preventing them from sharing your browsing habits with advertisers. "The problem is that websites don't have to honor this request, thus rendering the tracking protection feature useless," Nick Mediati writes for PCWorld. "Mozilla is working to make this feature an industry standard, so hopefully things will improve in time."

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