File Under: Browsers

Mozilla Offers Fresh Firefox Previews

With Firefox 8 out the door Mozilla’s Beta, Aurora and Nightly channels have now been updated with the next three work-in-progress versions of Firefox.

If you’d like an early look at what’s coming in the next three Firefox cycles, you can download a copy of the Beta channel, the Aurora channel, or, for those that live on the edge, the Nightly channel.

You may notice a speed boost in the Beta channel thanks to the new support for JavaScript type inference. Type inference is a new feature in Firefox’s SpiderMonkey JavaScript engine. Official support should, if all goes according to plan, arrive with Firefox 9 in about six weeks. In the mean time Mozilla claims beta users will see up to a 30 percent speed increase on JavaScript-heavy sites.

Firefox Beta users on OS X will notice a slightly updated look that more closely matches the new application toolbar and buttons that Apple introduced with OS X Lion. Firefox also now supports the two-finger swipe gesture for navigating back and forth in history (as do Chrome and Safari).

Further down the Firefox pipeline is Firefox 10, currently in the Aurora channel. So far there aren’t many new features in Aurora. The plan calls for implementing the new silent update features in Firefox 10, but so far that feature is listed as blocked.

Silent automatic updates will make Firefox’s Chrome-like update schedule a bit more transparent when it arrives, but it’ll be annoying without its companion feature — changing the Firefox defaults so that add-ons are automatically marked compatible. Fortunately for Firefox fans upset about continual add-on breaking updates, this feature is “on track” and will hopefully arrive with Firefox 10 in early 2012.

If you’d like to get really experimental you can download the Nightly channel, which is very unstable, but does offer a look at one of the more promising features scheduled for Firefox 10 — fullscreen mode for any HTML element (previously fullscreen only worked on <video>).

The most obvious use case for applying fullscreen to arbitrary HTML elements is for online games, though there’s also the potential for abuse. Fullscreen for arbitrary elements means unscrupulous sites could hijack the screen with ads, or worse, clickjacking attacks. Mozilla’s implementation of fullscreen mode allows for permission dialogs and it seems reasonable to expect something like what the browser does now for geolocation requests could be applied when a page wants to go fullscreen.

Web developers will be interested in the coming Firefox 10 developer tools which may include a new built-in code editor for working with HTML or JavaScript in the browser. The Page Inspector tool (think Firebug’s code inspector, but native) that was originally planned for Firefox 4 is also on track to arrive with Firefox 10.

If you’d like to test any of these features just download the channel containing whichever build you’d like to experiment with, but keep in mind that, along with the new features, most of these builds contain bugs and are not recommended for production use.

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