File Under: Browsers

Latest Version of Firefox Brings Better Privacy Controls

Firefox 20 offers an easier way to avoid prying eyes. Image: Andy Roberts/Flickr

Mozilla turned 15 this week and the company is celebrating with a new release of its flagship Firefox web browser.

If you’re already using Firefox the latest version should arrive shortly. If you’d like to take the latest release for a spin, head on over to Mozilla’s download page.

Among the new features in Firefox 20 is a revamped per-window private browsing mode. The new private browsing mode mirrors what you’ll find in Google’s Chrome browser and is really how Firefox’s private browsing mode should have been all along.

Now when you want to start a private browsing session in Firefox you simply select the new “New Private Window” menu option. That will open a new window noting that Firefox will discard any history, search history, download history, web form history, cookies, or temporary internet files for sites you visit in that window. Any files you download and pages you bookmark will be kept.

The new per-window model is much more intuitive than the old method of private browsing which put your normal browsing session on hold, hid it away somewhere and opened a new, private session. Now it’s easy to have private windows right alongside normal windows, very handy for those who, for example, need to log in to two different Gmail accounts simultaneously.

The other major visible change in Firefox 20 is the redesigned downloads window. Mozilla proposed the new download toolbar button and overlay window design so long ago that Apple’s Safari browser has already long since copied and released its own version.

While Firefox might not be the first to get its proposed downloads interface to the web, it’s welcome nonetheless and alleviates the need to cycle through windows or hit keyboard shortcuts just to see if your downloads are done. The button also helpfully converts to a progress bar when you’re actually downloading something.

To see additional info beyond what’s available in the new overlay, just click the “show all downloads” button at the bottom of the list.

One interesting aspect of the new “Show All Downloads” window is that you may discover your history of downloaded files is larger than you think. If you’ve been clearing your download history by clicking the “Clear List” button in the old downloads window, well, that button was quite literal — it just cleared the list. It didn’t actually remove anything from your downloads history. This can be incredibly good news if you’ve misplaced a file or slightly disconcerting if you thought you were deleting references to any sensitive files you may have downloaded. To really clear your downloads be sure to use Firefox’s “Clear Recent History” menu, which has an option to actually delete everything in your download history.

It’s also worth noting that the new downloads manager works with the private browsing mode as well. You can manage downloads within private windows via a separate downloads interface which is then scrubbed when the private session is closed.

For more details on everything that’s new in the revamped download dialog, read through Firefox developer Mike Conley’s post on the new download manager.

Firefox 20 has a few goodies under the hood for web developers, including support for WebRTC‘s getUserMedia API, which allows developers to access the user’s camera and microphone (with permission) for things like Skype-style video calls. The stable release of Firefox still doesn’t offer full support for WebRTC, but future releases will continue to add more features over time.

For more details on everything that’s new in Firefox 20 — including some speed improvements for page loads and downloads — see Mozilla’s release notes.