Among the many new features in Firefox 4 is support for the Do Not Track (DNT) HTTP header. If you turn on the DNT header in Firefox 4′s preferences pane, the browser will broadcast a custom header in HTTP requests which tells servers you want to opt out of any tracking cookies.
Mozilla developed the DNT header to give users an easier way to opt out of increasingly intrusive online tracking by websites and advertisers. The header is, in the long run, a far better solution than constantly updating cookie-based block lists, which is currently the main solution for most users.
The problem with the DNT header is that, until now, no websites actually looked for it.
That, however, is changing. Mozilla announced today that the AP News Registry has implemented support for the DNT header across 800 news sites, which see more than 175 million unique visitors every month. That’s a huge shot in the arm for Do Not Track, which was previously a great idea, but one with little real world application.
Starting today, provided you turn on the DNT preference in Firefox 4, the AP News Registry will no longer set any cookies.
Mozilla also reports that it is in talks with the Digital Advertising Alliance to get the self-regulating group to support the DNT header as well. Strange though it may sound, the online ad industry actually has a decent track record of working with privacy advocates and even offers its own cookie-based opt out list. In other words, there is a good chance that DNT will be broadly adopted within the online ad industry.
While the DNT header seems well on its way to becoming a de facto standard (and a real standard, provided the W3C accepts it), it’s important to bear in mind that it will never stop rogue advertisers who choose to ignore your DNT settings. For the bad apples in the bunch, cookie-based blocking will remain the only viable option.
Mozilla has released Firefox Mobile for Android and Maemo, bringing the company’s mobile browser up to par with the new desktop version of Firefox 4. Mozilla claims Mobile Firefox 4 is up to three times faster than Android’s default web browser, and offers syncing features you won’t find in any other mobile browser.
Like Firefox 4 on the desktop, the mobile variant can handle themes and add-ons, though the desktop add-ons won’t work — you’ll need to find the mobile equivalent. Because this is the first real release of Mobile Firefox, the add-on offerings aren’t as extensive as what you’ll find for the desktop, but several popular add-ons — like AdBlock Plus and Readability — are already available.
Perhaps the best part of Firefox Mobile is the syncing capabilities, which best what you’ll find in Google’s default Android browser (or Mobile Safari on the iPhone for that matter). Just turn on Firefox Sync on your desktop and any bookmarks, passwords and, most importantly, open tabs, will be available on your phone.
Mobile Firefox 4′s syncing features mean you can walk away from the desktop and pick up exactly where you left off on your phone. If you use Chrome to Phone to sync your desktop and mobile browsing on Android, Mobile Firefox’s offering is similar, but it syncs in both directions and “just works” with no effort on your part.
Mobile Firefox 4 is also notable for one thing it lacks — Flash support. Given that no version of Firefox supports H.264 video — typically the fallback for mobile devices that don’t support Flash — the lack of Flash in Mobile Firefox may be a bit more of a problem than it is for Mobile Safari users.
You can check out Mobile Firefox 4 in action in the video below, which does a nice job of demonstrating the usefulness of the syncing features.
Yesterday’s launch of Firefox 4 lacked the “download day” publicity stunt aspect of its predecessor — perhaps because, despite the record setting numbers, the launch of Firefox 3 brought Mozilla’s servers down and caused upgrade delays for many users — but that hasn’t stopped Firefox fans from upgrading in a hurry.
Firefox 4 is also likely the last time we’ll see a big release like this from Mozilla. The company is transitioning to a rolling release schedule like that of Google Chrome — less fanfare perhaps, but with more features arriving in less time.
Of course all of these numbers are meaningless in the long run, what really matters is that the web has two new, much-improved web browsers. That means developers can start using more of the new tools in HTML5 and users will find the web a faster, more exciting place.
Mozilla has unleashed Firefox 4, the next version of the popular open source web browser.
The fourth major upgrade for Firefox was originally scheduled for the end of 2010, but the sheer number of new features pushed the deadline back several times. Now the wait is over — the new and improved Firefox 4 is now available as a free download for Windows, Mac and Linux.
Firefox 4 is a major overhaul, bringing a revamped user interface, hardware accelerated-speed improvements, built-in syncing and a significant upgrade under the hood. Page-rendering speed has been tripled, according to Mozilla, and the browser has increased support for web standards like native HTML5 video, fancy CSS 3 visual effects and native web fonts.
The most noticeable change in Firefox 4 is the revamped user interface, which streamlines the look and feel of Firefox. Tabs have been moved to the top of the browser window, above the URL bar. On Windows Firefox 4 matches Chrome’s tightly stacked tabs (which extend into the window’s title bar), and it does reduce the amount of space the tab bar takes up. On Mac OS X Firefox 4′s tabs don’t extend into the title bar. If you don’t like the tabs on top, there’s a preference option to revert to the old look.
Tabs are on top in the new Firefox 4.
The status bar, which has long lived at the bottom of the window, is now gone. Instead there’s an “Add-ons bar,” though it’s disabled by default. The main missing information in the status bar — the URL preview that shows up with you hover over a link — now shows up in a floating window, a la Google Chrome and IE 9.
Also gone in Firefox 4 is the RSS button, which, according to Mozilla’s research, no one was using. If you were among the few who did use the RSS button, it’s not hard to add it back.
Clearly Chrome’s minimalist user interface has inspired Firefox to clean up its look (Chrome had a similar effect on the recent release of Internet Explorer 9), but Firefox still has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Firefox 4 introduces a new feature dubbed “Panorama.” With it, you’ll be able to group and quickly switch between related clusters of open tabs. Designed for those of us over-stimulated fiends who frequently have dozens of tabs (or more) open at one time, Panorama allows you to conquer tab chaos. For example, you can group tabs for work and tabs for fun, and then quickly switch between groups.
App tabs save space in the tab bar.
This release brings another new feature, App Tabs, which allow you to pin sites you use frequently — Gmail or Facebook, for example — to persistent tabs that take up less space and will stay in place even when you switch between tab groups.
There are so many new features in Firefox 4 we don’t have the space to list them all here, but a few standouts in the new interface include the ability to switch to a new tab when you search in the URL bar, the slick new add-ons manager and privacy controls that stop websites from tracking your every move.
Most of us use multiple screens every day — one or two computers, and at least one smartphone with a web browser — keeping it all in sync is increasingly difficult. That’s where Firefox 4′s sync tools come in, allowing you to pick up where you left off, no matter what device you’re using.
Firefox 4′s sync feature handles bookmarks, browsing history, user preferences and open tabs, allowing you to move between desktop and mobile versions of Firefox with all your data intact. Firefox Sync is simple to use: Just create a username and password, along with an encryption phrase, and Firefox takes care of the rest behind the scenes.
Unlike similar implementations in other browsers, Firefox 4 will encrypt all your data before sending it over the network to sync through Mozilla’s servers, which ensures that your data is protected from prying eyes (you can also host your own sync server if you’d like).
The sync updates in Firefox 4 coincide with similar improvements in Firefox Mobile 4 for the Android and Maemo mobile platforms. For iOS users there’s the Firefox Home app, which can give you access to all of your synced info. (Though any links you open will of course be rendered in iOS’ Webkit browser, not Firefox.)
The one missing feature in Firefox 4′s syncing is add-ons. As Firefox transitions to its new add-on format, it’s possible future releases will sync add-ons, as well.
Speed and hardware acceleration
Firefox 4 makes impressive speed gains (note tests show RC1)
This release also sees the first support for hardware acceleration. The idea behind hardware acceleration is to hand off processor-intensive tasks to the computer’s graphics card so that animations and page rendering are faster and smoother. Hardware acceleration is particularly helpful for common tasks like rendering text and graphics.
Internet Explorer 9 hyped its hardware acceleration when it launched last week, but Firefox 4 not only bests IE 9 in several tests, it also supports Windows XP, while IE 9′s acceleration is limited to Windows Vista and Windows 7.
In fact Firefox’s hardware acceleration works across platforms taking advantage of Direct2D and Direct3D on Windows, XRender on Linux and OpenGL on Mac, to make animations and complex HTML5 applications run more smoothly. Firefox 4′s hardware acceleration is enabled by default on all supported hardware.
Mozilla's Web o' Wonder shows off Firefox 4's HTML5 powers
Firefox has long been at the forefront of standards support, and this release is no exception. Firefox 4 brings support for HTML5 features like the audio and video tags (rendering native web video with the WebM and OGG codecs), as well as the new semantic elements and dozens of APIs, ranging from drag-and-drop file uploading to geolocation.
You’ll also find plenty of support for new CSS 3 features like transforms, transitions, media queries for responsive design and @font-face for embedding better-looking fonts in your web pages. To go along with the new font embedding, Firefox 4 now supports the Web Open Font Format (WOFF), which joins the TrueType and OpenType support found in previous releases.
Firefox 4 also drops the -moz prefix for a number of more stable CSS rules, like border-radius and box-shadow.
Firefox 4 now supports WebGL, which means faster 3-D graphics and animations. WebGL bridges the gap between HTML5 tools like the new Canvas tag and OpenGL, an OS-native graphics engine, to speed up HTML5 web apps and animations.
If you’ve been using the Firefox 4 betas you’ll automatically be updated to RC1. If you’ve been waiting for something more stable than a beta, you can grab the release candidate from the Mozilla downloads page.
The latest Firefox 4 build offers “general stability, performance, and compatibility improvements.” Mozilla also reports that it has fixed more than 8,000 bugs since the first beta of Firefox 4 was released eight months ago.
The best news for long-time Firefox fans is that over 70 percent of Firefox add-ons have been updated to work with Firefox 4. If your favorite add-on hasn’t yet been marked as compatible with the latest release, you can help test it using the Firefox Add-ons Compatibility Reporter.
With the major bugs out of the way and the new features working as they should, Firefox 4 will likely arrive in final form very shortly, possibly as early as next week.