What’s New in Firefox 26

Craig Buckler

The holiday season has little effect on browser schedules and Firefox 26 was released on December 10, 2013 for both desktop and mobile devices. Mozilla’s rapid pace of development has slowed, but it’s typically faster than Google. Perhaps that’s because Chrome has fewer missing features although I’m not totally convinced; we’re still waiting for non-prefixed CSS3 properties in that browser.

You know the drill. Install Firefox 26 by waiting for the auto-update, clicking About Firefox from the Help menu, or visiting firefox.com.

Let’s look at the new features…

Click-to-Play Java Plugins

All Java plugin content has been blocked. The user is asked whether they want to run an applet — like you may have seen in mobile browsers. It can be set to “Always Activate” if the user trusts Java but out-of-date VMs are always disabled.

Click-to-play has has been available for a while and Mozilla was intending to enforce the policy on all plugins except Flash. The change has been pushed back to a later release.

It’s a courageous decision. I’m for it and, personally, I’d be happy to see Flash blocked too. Mozilla has claimed not to have done so because Flash is so ubiquitous — although I suspect it’s more to avoid the wrath of YouTube and advertisers.

Reduced Memory Usage

Firefox had a reputation for being a memory hog but Mozilla addressed the issue and it’s now one of the most lightweight browsers (at least on Windows). Firefox 26 marks the pinnacle of the MemShrink project which sees further reductions partly owing to the way it handles images.

Note that Mozilla are considering moving to separate process-per-tab model as adopted by Chrome, Opera and IE. This will inevitably have a negative effect on memory consumption, but the team report that it’s minimal and will make the browser more stable. We’ll see.

Image Handling Improvements

Firefox now parses EXIF information to display standalone images at the correct orientation.

Page load times should be improved since the browser no longer decodes images which are not visible on the page.

CSS3 image-orientation Support

The new image-orientation property can correct the orientation of an image on the page. It’s important to note this isn’t the same as a rotation transformation since orientation only affects images to the nearest quarter-turn. The property values are:

  • from-image — use the image’s EXIF data to correct orientation
  • flip — flip the image horizontally
  • <angle> — such as 180deg, -90deg, etc. Angles are rounded to the nearest 90 degrees.

image-orientation is a draft W3C recommendation and is only supported by Firefox at this time. Ideally, you should be rotating and optimizing images before publication but this could be useful when users select and preview images prior to upload.

CSS3 text-decoration-line Update

Think back to the dim and distant CSS2.1 days and you’ll recall the text-decoration could be set to underline, overline or line-through. In CSS3, this is shorthand for the following properties:

  • text-decoration-line [underline | overline | line-through | underline overline | overline underline line-through | blink | none]
  • text-decoration-style [solid | double | dotted | dashed | wavy | inherit]
  • text-decoration-color [color | inherit]

‘-moz-blink’ has been added in Firefox 26 although, somewhat thankfully, it still won’t blink the text.

The properties have fairly patchy support. Chrome and earlier versions of Firefox require -webkit and -moz prefixes accordingly.

Developer Tool Enhancements

The Firefox developer tools are increasingly powerful and significantly faster than plugin-based alternatives. While they’re not a replacement for Firebug just yet, the tools are great for quick testing.

The following features are available from Firefox 26:

  • :before and :after pseudo elements can be inspected in the tools. It’s about time!
  • Touch event emulation in the Responsive Design View (use the pointy hand icon).
  • Developer tool text size can be changed with Ctrl/Cmd and +/-.
  • The debugger can be set to break on uncaught exceptions.
  • Remote debugging over a network.

Miscellaneous Updates

Other changes include…

  • Script-generated passwords can be saved by the password manager.
  • H.264 encoded video is supported on Linux.
  • MP3 audio is supported on Windows XP to bring it in line with other versions.
  • Firefox updates can occur when the user does not have full administrative rights to the installation folder.
  • The prompt has been removed when a site requests the AppCache.
  • element.classList can now add or remove multiple classes in one call.
  • Event constructors can be defined in Web Workers.
  • Experimental support for position: sticky has been implemented (enable it by setting layout.css.sticky.enabled in about:config.)
  • Firefox for Android now supports Intel x86 smartphones and tablets.
  • The Android start-up screen has been redesigned.
  • Fourteen security issues have been fixed.

Considering it’s one of the least interesting browser updates, that’s quite an impressive list. Firefox 27 should appear in February 2014.