Perhaps the best news, which arrives alongside the new demos is that Firefox 4 RC1 is just about done, with the final release likely not far behind it.
It’s been a long time coming, but Firefox 4 has finally reached the end of its beta testing phase. Mozilla has released Firefox 4 beta 12, which, according to the Firefox 4 roadmap, will be the last beta release.
Sadly, that doesn’t mean Firefox 4 is done yet. Although Firefox 4 is already some months past its original release date, there will still be at least one release candidate before Firefox 4 is declared final later this year.
Beta 12 is primarily a bug fix release and clears most of the major remaining bugs that were blocking the release of Firefox 4. Aside from bug fixes, the most noticeable change in this release is the return of the status bar — sort of.
Early in the beta release cycle, Mozilla removed the status bar — the toolbar at the bottom of the browser window that shows you what the browser is doing — replacing it with an “add-ons bar.” Perhaps the most useful part of the status bar, link URL previews, were moved up to the URL bar. As we mentioned in a post about how to bring back the status bar, the change made Firefox the only web browser that didn’t show a URL preview at the bottom of the page when you hovered over a link.
Thankfully, someone at Mozilla has seen the light and returned the URL preview to its proper place. The status bar is still, technically, gone, but a new link preview bar appears whenever you hover over a link. Firefox’s new floating URL preview bar is identical to what you’ll see in Google Chrome and the coming Internet Explorer 9 — in this case copying the competition is a good thing.
Other minor tweaks in the new beta include better performance for Flash content and improved plugin compatibility with the new hardware acceleration features enabled.
Mozilla still has not set a final release date for Firefox 4, though the roadmap suggest a release candidate build will be coming soon. Assuming all is well with that release, it’s possible we’ll see the final release of Firefox 4 before the end of March.
Microsoft and Mozilla are trading barbs over the coming Internet Explorer 9. Microsoft has been touting its HTML5 support in IE9, claiming that it renders HTML5 better than Firefox (and Chrome, Safari and Opera).
So who’s right? Well, both of them. IE9 is a huge leap forward for Microsoft. IE9 handles HTML5 and CSS 3 far better than its predecessors. As we said in our review of the release candidate IE9 is great news for web developers because it means the end of IE hacks and workarounds.
That said, IE9 offers nowhere near the level of HTML5 support found its competitors.
But what about Microsoft’s much-touted HTML5 compliance chart? Well, the tests used for that chart are the tests Microsoft developed for IE9 and submitted to the W3C. It should be no surprise that IE9 scores well in the tests it created, after all, those are the tests it was developed against.
IE9 does well on its own HTML5 tests
For something a bit less biased, grab a copy of the IE9 release candidate and point it any of the popular HTML5 test suites on the web — caniuse.com and HTML5tests.com are two good examples. Run IE9 RC1 and Firefox 4 through those tests and you’ll find that Firefox handy beats IE9 (as do Chrome, Opera and Safari). In fact, Firefox 3.5, which is over two years old, also handily beats IE9.
So how can Microsoft claim that IE9 is a “modern” browser with amazing HTML5 support? Well, Microsoft’s argument is that HTML5test and its ilk look for features that haven’t necessarily been finalized by the W3C. Microsoft’s rebuttal to Mozilla’s criticisms is that users don’t want experimental features, they want a fast browser that can handle HTML5 video, audio and canvas.
Microsoft’s Tim Sneath, director of Windows and Silverlight technical evangelism, says that “modern browsers implement features when they are ready, providing predictable patterns that developers can rely on rather than suddenly breaking or removing specifications.”
The problem with that claim is that, as we’ve often pointed out, the web doesn’t move at the speed of standards, it moves at the speed of innovative web browsers and developers. Sometimes there are hiccups along the way, but in taking the conservative track, IE9 is in danger of falling behind the web before it even makes it onto the web.
Internet Explorer’s market share has been in steady decline for several years now. IE has dropped from 68.5 percent world market share in July 2008 to 46 percent today (according to StatCounter).
Faced with dwindling market share and IE bashing in the web development community, many developers were hoping Microsoft would innovate, would build something amazingly far ahead of the competition. But that’s not the approach Microsoft has decided to pursue.
So while IE9 does an admirable job of catching up on web standards, it’s far from a leader when it comes to HTML5 and CSS 3 support. If you want a browser that works on today’s web, IE9 will make a fine choice. If you want a browser that’s already moving toward the web of the future then you might want to look elsewhere.
If you’re already using Firefox 4 you should be automatically updated. If you’d like to help Mozilla test Firefox 4, head over to the beta downloads page and grab a copy of beta 11.
The Do Not Track feature is a new HTTP header that will stop behavioral advertising tools from tracking where you go on the web. To turn on the new feature just check the box under the Advanced tab in Firefox 4′s preferences.
For now all you’ll be doing is broadcasting the new header information; it won’t actually have any effect. Because no online advertisers yet support the header, the new feature won’t protect your privacy. However, some of the biggest names on internet advertising already voluntarily offer a cookie-based opt-out system and it seems likely that, with Mozilla behind the new header, the same companies will support the new option eventually.
Mozilla is planning to release at least one more beta and then a round of release candidates before Firefox 4 is finalized later this year.
Mozilla is wasting no time putting its proposed “Do Not Track” HTTP header onto the web. The latest Firefox nightly builds now include support for the new header and it may even make the final release of Firefox 4, due later this month. The new HTTP header, which Mozilla announced last week, is designed to tell online advertisers to stop tracking your web browsing habits.
If you’d like to see how Mozilla has implemented the header, grab the latest Firefox nightly build. There have been a few changes since Mozilla first announced its plan, including renaming the header to simply “DNT.”
To turn the header on, open Firefox’s preferences panel and select the Advanced tab (eventually Mozilla will add the option to the more appropriate Privacy tab). There you’ll see a new option to “Tell websites I do not want to be tracked.” Of course even if you turn the header on today and broadcast “DNT: 1″ to the web, it won’t do anything.
For the header to actually protect your privacy, websites and online advertisers will have to support it. While there’s plenty of debate as to whether they ever will, it definitely won’t happen until the feature is widely available. Mozilla is hoping that including the new header in Firefox 4 will spur advertisers to support it.
For now, broadcasting “DNT: 1″ will be, as Alexander Fowler, the Global Privacy and Public Policy Leader at Mozilla, puts it, “akin to displaying EFF’s Blue Ribbon campaign.”
The current plan is to test the privacy header in the next beta release of Firefox 4 and then, assuming there are no bugs, roll it out with the final release of Firefox 4 later this month.