All posts tagged ‘beta’

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Fourth Firefox 4 Beta Adds ‘Panorama,’ Hardware Acceleration

Firefox 4 beta

Mozilla has released the fourth beta for the upcoming Firefox 4 browser. The latest pre-release version of Firefox 4 brings several new features including a new tab-organization tool, hardware acceleration in Windows 7 and support for the HTML5 video-buffered property.

If you’d like to help Mozilla test beta 4, you can grab Firefox 4 beta 4 for all major operating systems (and more than 30 languages) from Mozilla’s beta download site.

The big news in beta 4 is the Panorama feature (it used to be called Tab Sets, and Tab Candy before that — hopefully this name sticks). We looked at in depth when it hit the nightly builds.

Panorama allows you to group and quickly switch between related clusters of open tabs. Designed for those of us over-stimulated freaks who frequently have dozens of tabs (or more) open at one time, Panorama allows you to conquer tab chaos: for example, grouping tabs for work together and tabs for fun together, and then quickly switching between groups.

The feature works a bit like multiple desktops in your operating system — a la Expose on Mac OS X — except in this case it’s just web pages inside a single browser window. Here’s a video by Firefox designer Aza Raskin showing the latest version of Panorama in action:

Firefox beta 4 also brings what’s fast becoming the new hotness in web browsers: hardware acceleration. Like graphics-intensive games, the idea behind hardware acceleration is to shift some of the work from your PC’s main processor to the graphics card, which will speed up page-rendering, particularly text and graphics. The coming Internet Explorer 9 and future versions of Google’s Chrome browser will both take advantage of hardware acceleration.

Firefox is planning to do the same, but, as Mozilla’s Mike Shaver recently posted on Twitter, the hardware-acceleration features are currently disabled by default in beta 4. If you’d like to see Firefox take advantage of Windows’ Direct2D interface — regardless of the bugs that may exist — Mozilla has some instructions on how to enable it in beta 4.

The Mozilla road map still calls for the hardware-acceleration features to make the final release of Firefox, which presumably means we’ll see at least one more beta before Firefox 4 moves to the release-candidate stage.

The latest beta also brings support for HTML5 video’s buffering property, which means Firefox can accurately determine which time segments of a native web video can be played without having to pause while more data downloads. The end result is that the progress bar appears nonlinear and makes it easy to determine which parts of the video are available.

If you’d like to know everything that’s new in Firefox 4 beta 4 since the release of Firefox 3.6, Mozilla has put together a handy list of new features (including a few that aren’t quite finished). The list is quite extensive, and Firefox 4 is shaping up to be one of the biggest updates in some time.

While Mozilla still does not have a firm release date, Firefox 4 is expected to arrive in final form some time before the end of 2010. We’re expecting it in late October or early November.

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File Under: Browsers

Next Firefox 4 Beta Arrives, Now With Multi-touch

Mozilla has released the latest beta version of its Firefox 4 browser. You can grab Firefox 4 beta 3 for all major operating systems and over 30 languages from Mozilla’s beta download site.

The big addition to this beta is support for touch events inside the browser on Windows 7 machines. Windows 7 ships with built-in support for multi-touch actions on touchscreen tablets, desktops and laptops, and now Firefox is able to access that magic and let you interact with websites by touching them. The result is stuff like this:

Also new to this release is an enhancement to the JavaScript capabilities within Firefox. If you’ve been keeping up with all the latest JavaScript and HTML5 web app demos we’ve been showing you over the last few months, you’ve probably noticed that animations with many moving parts tend to be much smoother and faster in Chrome and Safari. This new version of Firefox gives scripted animation performance a significant boost, so the speed difference is less noticeable.

These new features join the enhancements already introduced in previous pre-release versions of Firefox 4, like the new tabs-on-top interface and the addition of App Tabs.

The tabs-on-top setting can be toggled in the browser's View menu.

The move to tabs-on-top is a growing trend among browser vendors. Chrome and Opera do it, and Safari has flirted with the look. While some within the Firefox user community fear Mozilla is making the switch just to chase the latest design fad, the change is less about a trend and more about the evolution of the web as a platform — these UI tweaks turn the tab bar into something much closer to a dock or a task bar.

Keep in mind, Firefox 4 is still a pre-release browser, and it may not be entirely stable. But it should be stable enough for daily use, and it will give you a heads up on all the new goodies on the way when Firefox 4 is officially released this October or November.

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File Under: Browsers

Second Beta Release of Firefox 4 Arrives

The second beta release of the next version of Firefox is now available.

Download Firefox 4 Beta 2 from Mozilla and test it out. Windows, Mac OS X and Linux builds are available in multiple languages. We were originally expecting it to arrive last Friday, but the release was delayed a few days for quality assurance testing.

Keep in mind, this is a pre-release version of the browser, and it may not be entirely stable. But it should be stable enough for daily use, and it will give you a heads up on all the new goodies coming in Firefox 4 when it’s officially released this fall.

Tuesday’s release has a number of new features, including support for CSS 3 transitions, better handling of retained layers on pages and a new feature in the add-ons manager that confirms when an add-on has been installed. There are also the requisite performance boosts and stability improvements, so if you’re running beta 1, definitely consider upgrading.

The feature sure to generate the most chatter is something new for Mac OS X users: a new tabs-on-top interface. Windows users got the tabs-on-top look as the default interface in beta 1 earlier this month. With beta 2, the change arrives on Macs. The new beta also enables App Tabs, a similar concept that lets you miniaturize the tabs for common web apps — e-mail, your calendar or other apps you use multiple times a day — and store them in the tab bar for quick access.

The tabs-on-top setting on Mac OS X can be toggled in the browser's View menu.

The move to tabs-on-top is a growing trend among browser vendors. It was popularized by Google Chrome, which has shipped with top tabs as the default since its birth two years ago. Reaction has been mixed — Opera now puts the tabs on top, and Safari tried the same thing in a beta release thing before abandoning it. And there are some within the Firefox user community who fear Mozilla is making the switch just to chase the latest design fad.

Mozilla’s lead user experience designer Alex Faaborg defends the decision, saying it has nothing to do with fashion. By putting the tabs on top, he says, Firefox 4 will be better equipped to run web applications that sit in their own tab.

These UI tweaks turn the tab bar into something much closer to a dock or a task bar — a fitting change, since the browser is becoming something much closer to a GUI for an operating system. Of course, if you don’t like your tabs up top, you can always choose the old look in the browser’s View menu.

The final browser is expected in October or November, and you can read our preview of Firefox 4 on Webmonkey.

Illustration at the top courtesy of Mozilla.

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File Under: Browsers

Google Chrome 6 Beta Is Right Around the Corner

The beta version of Google’s next browser is expected to ship soon, as the developer-channel release of Chrome 6 has just seen a code freeze. This is the point at which new features stop being added, and everything that’s already in the browser gets inspected, tested and tightened. We should expect Chrome 6 Beta within a few weeks.

Google’s browser is in an enviable position right now. It recently passed Safari in user share (according to StatsCounter) and it’s gaining on Firefox and IE. Also, in a market where raw speed is the most important metric, Chrome is enjoying a solid reputation as the one of the fastest — if not the fastest — browser on the scene.

Let’s take a look at what’s coming in Google Chrome 6 Beta. We downloaded the most recent dev-channel release of Chrome (6.0.466.4 on a Mac) to test all these new features.

New checkboxes in the syncing panel

Extension syncing — Google Chrome already lets you sync bookmarks and themes across multiple installations. Likewise, you can set up two or more instances of Chrome to run the same extensions. Read our previous coverage of this new feature. [An earlier version of this post inaccurately stated that history syncing was coming to Chrome 6, and it is not — apologies for the oversight, and thanks to reader Martey for pointing it out]

New menu button — Chrome has consolidated the menu button to the right of the URL bar. There used to be a Tool button and a Page button, but now it’s just a Tool button, and it contains the browser’s most-used menu functions. It exhibits similarities — functionally, not visually — to Firefox 4′s new Firefox Button.

Native PDF integration — Chrome 5 added built-in support for Adobe Flash, and version 6 adds similar support for PDFs. An in-browser PDF viewer will ship with the next browser. PDFs can be viewed, searched and navigated in a tab, just like a web page. The PDF experience is also sandboxed like any other app, keeping things secure. Printing isn’t quite there yet. If you’re running the dev-channel release, type about:plugins into the URL field to enable the Chrome PDF viewer.

UI changes — Aside from the new menu button, some additional polish has been applied to Chrome’s chrome. There’s a new green padlock icon in the URL bar to indicate a secure HTTPS connection, slight changes to default skin, and a less cluttered new tab page.

New menu button

Some much-awaited features were left on the drawing board, such as full-screen HTML5 video playback and a tabs-on-the-side option.

The current dev-channel release also shows no sign of Google’s Native Client technology, or its Web App Store — the mechanisms you’ll eventually be able to use to find and install popular apps — and those created by third parties — in your browser.

Install a web app? Google explains: “An installed web app could be separated visually from other tabs, could integrate better with the OS, and could be granted increased permissions.” Installed apps would be able to discern your location, store data on your local machine and use your camera, among other things. The installed apps would sit in your tab bar at the top of Chrome, where they’d look and behave like bookmarked web pages. Firefox has seen this coming, too: The next version of Mozilla’s browser will move the tabs to the top.

This app-friendly shift is a natural progression for the browser. App stores for our iPads and smartphones are leading us towards a more app-centric world, and advances in HTML5 and JavaScript have led to web apps that look and behave more like single-serving native applications. As the internet becomes a full-blown operating system — flush with APIs, storage clouds, public databases, connected sensors and ubiquitous Wi-Fi access points– the web browser is in a position to become the desktop for that operating system.

To get an early peek at installable Google apps, you’ll have to jump through some hoops of fire. Google Operating System has some instructions for the brave.

[Hat tip to Stephen Shankland, who noted the version 6 code freeze on CNET’s Deep Tech blog. There you’ll also find a comprehensive list of what Google left out of this beta cycle].

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File Under: Browsers

Firefox 4 Beta 1 Now Available for Download

The next major milestone of the Firefox browser has been released into the wild.

Firefox 4 Beta 1 is now available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. We were expecting it last week, as Mozilla had initially estimated the first beta would be available in June, but it’s here now. This release is for the adventurous only — it’s the first beta so it’s stable enough, but not rock-solid. So, if you’re eager to get an early peek at the next generation of Firefox, go forth and download.

The thing that probably matters most to everyday users is speed, and after using it for an hour or so, I can report that Firefox 4 is noticeably much faster than the various 3.x builds on my desktop.

Page load times are speeding up substantially across all the browsers now — Chrome and Safari recently received upgrades with hefty speed boosts, the new Opera 10.6 is on par with those releases, and the new Microsoft IE 9, due later this year, is also showing off some impressive speed in its current release, Platform Preview 3. Speed is one area where Firefox has recently drawn low marks, with some users switching to Chrome simply because it’s so nimble. But Firefox 4 appears set to change that when the final version arrives in a few months.

We covered much of what’s new in our Firefox 4 preview in May, but there are two new features in Tuesday’s release.

First, there’s a new look for Windows users. Tabs are now on top by default (a la Chrome). Mac and Linux users will get this feature as a default in subsequent betas. If you want to try it now, just go to View > Toolbars > Tabs on Top to enable it. Windows users, you can switch the option off using the same method if it’s not your thing. Also new for Windows people is the orange “Firefox” button in the top left. Click it and you get a dropdown filled with the most popular application menu items.

The new Firefox button. Click for larger.

The other new feature — and this is for all OSes — is an integrated Feedback button next to the search box. Click it to report anything that Firefox did to “make you happy” or “make you sad” (Mozilla’s actual wording). The Feedback system incorporates the Test Pilot add-on from Mozilla Labs to collect and anonymize the feedback.

Other big stuff in this beta:

  • Support for WebM video
  • More support for emerging web standards like CSS 3, Canvas and Web Sockets
  • Better page-rendering performance, including a new HTML5 parser
  • Crash protection that prevents bad plug-ins from blowing up the whole browser
  • New add-ons manager
  • Recently updated Jetpack SDK for new-style lightweight add-ons

Syncing, hardware acceleration and new themes for Mac OS X and Linux are coming soon, probably in the next beta release. So stay tuned.

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