By Craig Buckler

What’s Coming in Firefox 4.0

By Craig Buckler

Despite being the most popular web development browser, Mozilla Firefox has been losing market share to Google Chrome. Users appear to be switching because Chrome offers a faster, cleaner, and clutter-free browsing experience.

Mozilla has been listening. Firefox director Mike Beltzner revealed the primary goals for version 4.0:

  • Fast: making Firefox super-duper fast (his words — not mine!)
  • Powerful: enabling new open, standard Web technologies (HTML5 and beyond),
  • Empowering: putting users in full control of their browser, data, and Web experience.

A UI screenshot shows how the browser has been influenced by Chrome and Opera:

Firefox 4 screenshot

Mike stated:

Something UI designers have known for a long time is that the simpler an interface looks, the faster it will seem. The less the user has to take in with their eye, the quicker they can process it and the quicker the entire application will seem. So we’re actually looking at making our interface faster by changing the way it looks.

Firefox 4 tabs

Permanent tabs will also be implemented to provide easy access to regularly-used websites or online applications such as GMail, Twitter and of course. If I recall correctly, this is a feature which was first raised as an idea for the Chrome OS browser.

Mozilla will also remove the last remaining modal dialogs and are considering a Chrome-like background browser update process.

Other features will possibly include:

  • better OS integration such as Aero Peek and multitouch support
  • support for 64-bit OSs and Direct2D hardware acceleration on Windows — potentially arriving before it’s implemented in IE9
  • CSS transitions
  • improved DOM, video, audio and canvas performance
  • JavaScript threads
  • remote JavaScript debugging and improvements to the console and web inspector
  • a new permissions manager to control how information is shared with websites, e.g. geo-location data and local storage
  • a built-in Jetpack API for easier (non-XUL) extension development
  • WebGL

Great stuff. But don’t hold your breath — none of these features are guaranteed in version 4.0 and, even if they make the final build, you’ll need to wait until November 2010 to use them.

What’s top of your Firefox 4.0 wish list? Actually, scrap that — everyone will want a improved speed! What’s your second most-wanted feature?

  • Phil

    I’d love to give Firefox another chance but hate the idea of having a separate box for search

    • Anonymous

      Just type Google and your search term then!

      • dave

        or create keyword bookmark searches
        right click in the search box and do “add a keyword for this search”
        for google, I’d suggest using g, youtube = yt, amazon = a, etc, etc
        why be limited to just searching google?

      • John

        And that is an extra step that shouldnt be needed…. better to like chrome does

    • You can remove the separate search box and customize the user interface in several ways (right click between two boxes or buttons, choose “Customize…”). The main URL bar can act as a search box (actually, by default it’s a Google “I’m feeling lucky” search that’s used, you can configure that but on only using about:config if i remember correctly).

      I for one like the separate search box in Firefox, since i use several different search engines (major search engines, dictionaries, a few technical databases). But as most users only use one search engine, and most mainstream users are not very aware of URLs and just type in the URL bar what they want to find or the name of the site they want to go to, what Chrome did actually makes sense.

  • SolidSnake@GTI

    Pretty cool!
    My Firefox 4.0 wish list (top three):
    #1 Speed
    #2 Tabs process isolation
    #3 Simplicity

  • KiT

    Despite the similar interface to Chrome, I wish it be as fast (or faster) as seen on :)

  • smftre

    Sounds interesting… We.shall.see..

  • XLCowBoy

    Let’s hope they adopt something similar to Chrome’s V8 JS engine.

    • Anonymous

      They already do since a long time. It’s called TraceMonkey, which is not as fast as V8 on a few benchmarks but more than enough on real life web sites. JavaScript is very rarely the cause, when a web page is slow.
      Firefox 4 will have hardware accelerated rendering and a new “layers” infrastructure, which in real life means a thousand times more for performance than artificial benchmarks.
      As for benchmarks, on this page today’s Firefox is 3-4 times faster than Chrome, even without hardware acceleration:
      Tracemonkey is also very memory effecient and thus a good option for mobile browsers.
      Firefox is also adding a technology they are calling JägerMonkey, which basically is an import from Webkit JS, which will help the cases where tracing is slow.
      In summary, your wish is granted in every possible way. In fact it has been granted for a long time ;-)

  • stuey-boy

    Invisible updates would be a huge benefit and would shorten startup exponentially (I hope). Also, FF has the annoying habit of forgetting what it was doing after a while and requires restarting, so a better short-term memory would also be up there.

    It still needs to do more to make it my primary non-development browser.

  • I’m happy to see a Google Chrome inspired design!

  • W2ttsy

    Safari had tabs on top for a short while, and then they were dumped. So I have a feeling this will be either dumped in the official version or quickly changed with skins.

    Otherwise, the number 1 thing I’d love to see is a smaller memory footprint. Often I’ll be running firefox and then glance over at my system activity and see it using 400 – 500Mb of RAM, even though there are only a few tabs open.

    • Anonymous

      In plenty of tests Firefox has proved to be the most memory efficient browser. And even though we all would love a smaller memory footprint, no other browser is better. (Firefox 2.0 was a memory hog, though.)

      However, a half gig used for a few tabs sounds like a memory leak. I have a dozen tabs open right now (in Minefield) and it consumes about 130 MB. Are there any specific sites you are visiting and if so, it sounds like you should file a bug.

      • Anonymous

        You sound like a Mozilla employee…

    • chadavan

      #1 reason I started sing Chrome. Firefox would slow down to a crawl after it’s been in use for a few days.

      For development, FF is bar-none the top browser. For browsing, I must say it’s second best.

  • MalaDreams

    Most importantly to me — that the web developer toolbar and firebug are either still compatible or updated to be so — however I guess most of you figured that one out!

    I like a lot of you have all the browsers installed on the machine for obvious reasons, and most of the time i can have 30-40 tabs open in a browser and then open a different browser when it gets slow !! However I think Opera has handled that the best and lately I’ve started to like Opera syncing across my machines and the front “dialpad” of opera. I’d also love to not be able just to save my tabs but have an easy built-in function to open that group of tabs on a different machine. If i am working on project X with 20 tabs open and i switch project Y with my other 20 tabs open, when i go home i can continue project X with the 20 tabs from before. Yes, I could bookmark all tabs but I hate that, it clutters up my bookmark folder…..

    • zalun

      Ty XMarks – they do all of these

  • Pacoup

    I’m pretty sure that interface with the Office 2010-like button appeared in Firefox 3.7 design sketches earlier than Opera, and previous designs that are almost the same date back to early as Summer 2009.

    Arguably they’ve been influenced by Chrome (tabs on top), but not by Opera, which only got its current Windows-integrated design in early 2010.

    And actually, the way the new menu works in both Firefox 4 and Opera 10.5 really is inspire by Microsoft’s Office 2010 UI, which uses this new left-hand menu button concept instead of the traditional file menu.

  • mathieuf

    It is good to see more Opera inspired improvements: speed, powerful, and empowering.
    What I would like to see in FF is better add-on features without add-ons. What I mean is that I use FF with a set of add-ons, and this introduces problems: How do I make FF “the same” on each of my machines? When looking for a feature, an add-on, there are often many that do the same (or similar) tasks, so how to pick out the right one? That is where Opera is nice, it has built-in most features that I need (and want) and I don’t have to search for an ad-block or coffee-cup. It also seems each add-on slows down FF, so a speed comparison/test would have to remove or disable these for the duration of the test.

  • Darren884

    I am really looking forward to this! Firefox is awesome!

  • Rhysickle

    Fixing the memory leaks. Quite often after having loads of tabs open, even if I close most of them, the memory consumption will still be huge.

    I’m never sure if it’s purely a firebug issue, or related to firefox too, but I’d like to see firebug behaving more reliably when there are more than a few tabs open. I’m fed up of having to restart the browser all the time (although seeing the “console is not defined” error in teh console never fails to make me chuckle)

  • Tarh

    After seeing that screenshot of the new GUI, I’d be panicking if I didn’t know that Firefox has the best extension system of all browsers – easy to reverse all of those bad decisions!

  • Anonymous

    The nicest Chrome feature I’d like to see in Firefox is the ability to install extensions without having to restart the browser… Next to this is tab process isolation.
    The permanent tab thingie looks cool!

  • Nunks

    The nicest Chrome feature I’d like to see in Firefox is the ability to install extensions without having to restart the browser… Next to this is tab process isolation.
    The permanent tab thingie looks cool!

  • Forgot

    Speed is the #1 reason I use Chrome…so yeah some speed would be nice. But if they can figure out a way to stop FLASH from hogging resources that would be ideal. I listen to Pandora for hours at work…at least I try to. After the Memory hits 750 MB I have to exit and restart. I guess that is why I am typing this message into my Chrome Browser at the moment.
    Not sure if Firefox can fix Flash…but tab isolation would be a good start…so i can kill the porky Flash tab without restarting the entire browser.

    • W2ttsy

      if you have an iPhone then grab the pandora app. It sucks that it dies if you have to leave the app, but come WWDC with the official release of iphone os 4, then multitasking will fix that (requires 3GS).

      also, i’ve found the biggest memory leaks occur with things like facebook, gmail and youtube. Even after killing those tabs, the memory isn’t garbage collected, so I have to restart…

      also it would be nice if either firebug or firefox developers fixed the problem where firebug reports CSS issues related to the firebug chrome.

  • Shadow Caster

    OMG! That looks exactly like Opera!

    A bit of originality please!

    • I say both appear to be going towards Microsoft Office 2007/2010!

      A bit of originality please!

  • The nicest Chrome feature I’d like to see in Firefox is the ability to install extensions without having to restart the browser

    The reason Chrome can do that is that their extensions have next-to zero GUI integration, they’re just glorified bookmarklets. But Firefox will have that too, in the form of Jetpack extensions, which are similarly powerless and facile, but easy to implement and install.

    Personally I don’t see how that’s a feature, but each to their own :)

    • zalun

      Jetpack extensions aren’t “powerless” they’ve got full access to the same XUL as normal add-ons

  • 12

    Im wondering what needs to happen so Firefox team realize they have 5-10 years long waiting bugs which many people want them fixed but nobody is listening or some gives the excuse that this is not a priority! If they cant fix something for 10 years it doesnt speak for them any good! Thats why Chrome came, because Mozilla is doing what they want not what the users and developers want to do with the browser! Now learn from Chrome!

  • Balaswamy vaddeman

    as Mozilla Firefox is losing it’s market share to Chrome,it may come with more features in it’s next version.It’s sleek design will be good and may also come up with better performance.anyway It’s going to be interesting browser war to be watched.

  • davidcroda

    Better then WORST javascript performance of any browser

  • I hate to jump on a bandwagon, but I must agree with that sentiment – I’ve had nothing but bad experience in reporting Firefox bugs. Either they never get fixed, or they refuse to fix them citing some obscure API which relies on that behavior, as more important than general-use cases.

    I just won’t deal with it anymore – I get enough rudeness in normal life without inviting more of it!

  • Firefox is still my tool of choice at the end of my web design process when it comes to test and validating. The extensions are invaluable. I’ve tried Google Chrome but a lot of the extensions available are still unstable.

    However when it comes to browsing the web for leisure or research, it’s either Safari or Chrome. Simply because they’re fast and seem lighter on their feet.

    Even after all this time the Mac version still feels like a bloated port from Windows.

    Hopefully V4 will address this.

  • Anonymous

    Just shows, Google Chrome is to the Browser World like the iPhone is to the Smartphone World!

  • Anonymous

    Speed is always good, decreased memory footprint is always good. Chrome…phht. I only use these other browsers for testing. I would never browse a second on my leisure time with Chrome. Since Google had to retract their “oops” from the EULA about owning everything on your computer, everything that you will ever you see, touch, hear or smell, taking your first-born child, stealing your WiFi information, etc. I will never use a Google product. Hell even their search is becoming crap, its like going to your mailbox and getting a box full of advertising you have to toss in the garbage. One has to go 20 pages deep to find relevance anymore…”do no evil” my ass.

  • scasmflop

    A lot of these comments and suggestions counter each other. For example, you can’t have process isolation per tab and a smaller footprint. As a web developer I do use chrome quite a bit but haven’t made the full switch away from firefox because I don’t feel it is any faster. I think a lot of people are getting caught up in the hoopla that firefox is a dog because they are judging firefox + some poorly designed extensions vs google chrome clean. Looking at firefox with just firebug, pagespeed and a handful of other extensions with multiple tabs open my performance is right on par with chrome with the same pages opened. Taking a look at the footprint, firefox is much smaller in memory usage (mostly due to the trade off of isolation vs shared as mentioned above). My main motivation in dealing with Chrome is that it is the browser that most closely represents what is going on in the growing mobile world. It’s built on the same technology that the modern smart phones (iphone, ipad, android-based phones, soon to be blackberry if they can ever get their webkit browser upgrade live) are on so I can do a lot of testing on it to get a good idea of what those browsers might be capable of.

  • stetro

    It looks like Chrome. Interesting article ! Thanks !

  • succhan

    Can’t login so I will do this anon.

    I have mostly switched to Chrome for the following reasons. It renders as good in most cases as FF and because I don’t have the need to install all my dev tools on this browser as well it loads and responds fast.

    So to the question what would I like after a speed increase?
    1. I love the undo feature in Opera, you can even re-instate tabs you closed

    2. Ability to load and disable plugins (possibly in groups) without a restart. I have a lot of tools I use but not regularly in FF, I would love to load FF without them in general (for speed) and when I need them turn a whole bunch on. How often do I need sqlite manager? Not often enough.

    I don’t find the UI gets in the way

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