You’ll find that the address bar and tabs have a more compact feel to them, taking up less space than they did before, and the navigation buttons are smaller. The changes in Firefox 4’s appearance are subtle, but definitely pleasing. The functionality seems to have improved in comparison to previous versions, but some of the results in Firefox 4 Beta still disappoint in comparison to other browsers.
Tabs on Top
Probably following in the footsteps of Chrome, the tabs are now on top.
This is the default appearance in the Windows version, but in OS X and Linux you have to change it yourself, in the View menu, under toolbars.
Firefox Button (Windows Vista & 7 only)
In Windows Vista and 7, the menu has been replaced with one button at the top of the page, from where you can access all of the previous Firefox menu items. The use of the button complements the more compact redesign, but the appearance of the button itself leaves something to desired.
Provided you’ve disabled the Bookmarks Toolbar, a new button is featured next to the address and search bars. From there you can access all of your bookmarks.
If you choose to enable the Bookmarks Toolbar, the button will disappear.
Another small change, making it more similar in appearance to Chrome is the merging of the stop and reload buttons.
The Add-ons Manager has been slightly revamped and opens in a new tab rather than in the previously smaller window. The UI itself is also due more changes, and it is of course, not actually functioning. It should be interesting seeing what they are going to do with it once it’s ready to ship. Most of your add-ons probably won’t work with Firefox 4, but you can contribute to the testing process by installing the Add-On Compatibility Reporter.
Switch to Tab (Windows only)
An interesting feature available for the time being only for Windows users is the Switch to Tab feature. If you’re the kind of person who has several tabs open at a time, you will appreciate this new change. By typing part of the name of the site in the URL, an option will appear to switch to that tab.
Firefox 4 boasts native support for HTML5 video. There isn’t much in the way of HTML5 content out there just yet – but with time – that is bound to change.
Crash Protection is listed as one of Firefox 4’s features, but in fact, this has been around since the release of 3.6.4. When using plugins like Adobe Flash, Apple Quicktime and Microsoft Silverlight, in the event that any of these plugins crashes, you will no longer be forced to restart Firefox entirely – losing any progress in other tabs. Instead, you are able to reload the page to restart the plugin.
Speed & Efficiency
Running the Acid 3 test, Firefox 4 still fails, unlike Chrome and Safari.
As far as memory usage was concerned, Firefox 4 seemed to be using more memory than 3.6 and of course more than double Chrome’s usage. There have been other reports that Firefox 4 was more efficient in terms of memory usage than 3.6, but that wasn’t the case in our experience.
A significant change in Firefox’s privacy and security settings is in its changes to the CSS Web standard. In layman’s terms, the CSS flaw that exposed your browser history to websites has been remedied. The fix is not 100 per cent foolproof, but is a step in the right direction.
Developers will be interested to see other changes to Firefox 4 including Websocket support allowing development of real-time gaming and chatting, support for new CSS3 features allowing for faster display of webpages, a Web Console that allows for analysis of websites, and the JetPack SDK making Add-On development easier, and allowing you to install and use add-ons without restarting the browser.
One much-needed feature in the works is the native syncing of settings, passwords, bookmarks, history and even open tabs, across multiple devices. According to Mozilla we can also look forward to faster browsing, new privacy controls and OS X and Linux specific themes.
Have you tried out Firefox 4 Beta? Let us know what you think of it in the comments.