File Under: Browsers

Firefox 13: A Faster, Smarter Web Browser

Mozilla has released the final version of Firefox 13, a faster, smarter version of the popular open source web browser.

If you’re already using Firefox you’ll be automatically updated to the latest version the next time you restart your browser. If you’d like to take Firefox 13 for test drive head over to the Firefox download page.

Firefox 13 has several improvements over previous releases, but perhaps the best new feature is what’s known as “tabs on demand.”

Tabs on demand refers to the way Firefox restarts when you have multiple tabs open. Starting with Firefox 13 the browser takes a smarter approach to re-opening your tabs, only restoring the currently selected tab — background tabs are not loaded. Tabs on demand is a welcome relief for those of us who browse with dozens of tabs open all the time. You no longer need to fear restarting the browser since you won’t have to wait while every tab reloads. Instead, tabs will load only when you select them.

Firefox 13 is the first release to support Google’s not-quite-yet-a-standard SPDY protocol out of the box. (Technically the last two Firefox releases have supported SPDY, but this is the first to have it enabled by default.) The SPDY protocol improves on HTTP and in many cases can significantly reduce page load times. SPDY’s other main advantage over HTTP is that all traffic is encrypted.

Of course SPDY isn’t just about the browser. Before SPDY can conferred any speed benefits to Firefox users more websites will need to start supporting it. Fortunately some of the web’s largest sites already support SPDY — including many Google properties and, more recently, Twitter — and a SPDY module for the popular Apache web server has been available for some time.

Other tricks up Firefox 13′s sleeve include a fancier new tab page that replaces the blank page you see when creating a new tab in Firefox. Like other browsers, Firefox now displays a set of thumbnails on the new tab page with website recommendations based on the most frequently and recently visited pages in Firefox’s history. It looks more or less just like Opera’s Speed Dial, which Chrome also mimics. There’s an option to pin your favorite sites, as well as a button for rejecting sites you don’t want to see. If you’d prefer to stick with the good old blank slate you can turn off the thumbnails by clicking the button in the upper right corner of the new tab page.

Firefox’s default Home page gets a slight makeover in this release as well. The Google search field is still there, but there are also now some buttons at the bottom of the page for quickly accessing Downloads, Bookmarks, History, Add-ons, Sync and Settings.

While web developers will have to wait for Firefox 15 to get the cool new developer tools we wrote about yesterday, Firefox 13 does offer a couple of nice improvements. For example, the Page Inspector now allows you to lock in CSS pseudo-classes on inspected page elements — handy for checking out what’s happening in a :hover code block.

For more details on everything else that’s new in the latest version of Firefox, check out Mozilla’s release notes.