All posts tagged ‘Firefox 4’

File Under: Browsers, Visual Design

Mozilla’s ‘Home Dash’ is a Dashboard for Your Personal Web

Your favorite sites ready to go with Home Dash

Mozilla Labs has cranked out an interesting new experiment dubbed Home Dash, a Firefox add-on that removes the standard web browser interface — the location bar, search bar and tabs — and leaves behind just a Firefox logo. Click the logo and you’ll be presented with a dashboard where your most-visited sites are found.

It’s not an entirely new take on browsing, but Home Dash is definitely an extreme departure from the traditional web browser interface. In its current form, Home Dash is a bit like the idea pioneered by Opera’s Speed Dial feature — present a user’s most visited sites and eliminate the need to search. But Home Dash goes further and eliminates most of the browser chrome as well.

If you’d like to take it for a spin, head over to the Firefox add-ons site and install Home Dash (you’ll need to be using a Firefox 4 beta release for Home Dash to work). For some tips and help with Home Dash, see Mozilla’s follow-up post.

The idea behind Home Dash is to move from a search or recall-based browser to a “browse-based” browser. The web browser as we know it is primarily a recall-based experience. Much like the command line of yesteryear, it’s up to you to remember URLs and websites (or create bookmarks and shortcuts). But a browse-based interface works on recognition rather than recall — you see a thumbnail of where you want to go; you click on it. The burden of remembering names and URLs, or even creating shortcuts, is removed. Mozilla’s Head of User Experience, Alex Faaborg, has a nice piece with some more background on the difference between these two approaches.

With Home Dash you browse to the sites you like, rather than typing in URLs or search terms to find them. For now that means Home Dash pulls up your twenty-four most visited sites as thumbnails. When you hover a thumbnail the actual site will load in the background, but for anything beyond your most-visited sites you’re back in the search bar, recalling. The usefulness of Home Dash will depend entirely on how you use the web. For those that typically visit the same sites over and over, Home Dash may be a better interface. But if you more frequently search new information, and land on new sites, Home Dash may get in the way.

Eventually, the team behind Home Dash is planning to let you customize the dashboard by adding and removing websites, as well as resizing the thumbnail previews the way you see fit. Plans also call for Home Dash to broaden the range of “sites” so you can add web apps, widgets and even people. For now though Home Dash is very experimental and limited.

Home Dash is also buggy, UI elements flashed and occasionally disappeared in our testing and overall experience felt more like a step backward than anything else. In fact, it may well be that the URL bar is the command line perfected and we don’t need a browse-based experience. After all, once you’ve moved beyond your twenty-four sites, Home Dash offers nothing you can’t already do with the URL and Search bars.

However, while the traditional desktop experience may not be the ideal setting for Home Dash, it isn’t hard to see the appeal on touch screen devices like the many Android-based tablets that are due to arrive in the near future. The Mozilla Labs announcement makes no mention of tablets, but a touch-based version of Home Dash seems inevitable.

If you’d rather not install something as experimental as Home Dash, check out the video below which covers the basics (requires a WebM-video-capable browser):

Video (1:05) downloads: webm (5mb) and ogv (4mb)

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File Under: Browsers

Firefox 4 Beta 10 Improves Stability, Uses Less Memory

Firefox 4 beta 10Hot on the heels of last week’s beta 9 release, Mozilla has pushed out another update for Firefox 4. With the final release drawing near, Mozilla is hard at work squashing the last few bugs blocking the Firefox 4 release. While the latest release, beta 10, doesn’t get them all, it is stable enough for early adopters.

If you’d like to try out beta 10 and help out in the testing process, head over to the Mozilla beta downloads page and grab a copy.

For those that have been using Firefox 4 beta releases for some time, there isn’t much new in this release. Most of the focus has been on improving stability and performance, particularly when it comes to hardware acceleration, one of the much-touted new features in Firefox 4.

Beta 10 sees Mozilla taking a more conservative approach to hardware acceleration by restricting it to only certain graphics cards. For the time being, if your graphics card isn’t completely up to the task, Firefox 4 will automatically disable it via a new graphics driver blacklist. Eventually Mozilla plans to expand its hardware acceleration support, but for now only cards from Intel, AMD, and Nvidia will make the cut.

On the Mac side, Flash performance should be a bit better in this release, and, perhaps more importantly, it should be less likely to crash your browser. There have also been some small tweaks to cut down on Firefox 4′s memory footprint.

While this beta shows Firefox 4 very close to complete, Mozilla is still planning at least one more beta release before Firefox 4 is considered ready for prime time. The current roadmap puts the final release of Firefox 4 near the end of February 2011.

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File Under: Browsers, Web Basics

Firefox 4 Ditches the RSS Button, Here’s how to get it Back

That dark spot no one clicks? Yes, that's the RSS button

Firefox 4 is nearly complete. The next version of the venerable web browser introduces dozens of new features — everything from built-in bookmark syncing to hardware acceleration — but it also removes a few noteworthy features as well.

The now-departed status bar — which has been replaced by the add-ons bar — isn’t the only thing that’s been relegated to dustbin in Firefox 4. The familiar RSS icon in the URL bar is gone as well.

RSS has a long, complicated history and, despite its usefulness to the web at large, it just never caught on with mainstream users. RSS may power much of the web behind the scenes, but from a user’s point of view it remains an awkward tool with a terrible user interface. As Firefox developer Leslie Orchard points out, clicking the old Firefox RSS button would give you “a plainly-styled version of what you were probably already looking at on a site.” Of course, if you knew what you were doing, you could quickly either create a live bookmark or add the RSS feed to a feed reader. But for the uninitiated, the UI was confusing enough that Orchard says “some people would think they broke the page when the button was clicked on accident.”

According to Mozilla’s user study the RSS icon was clicked by a scant 3 percent of users. The only thing more neglected is the scroll left button, which is only present on very wide websites. With no one using the button, Firefox designers decided to remove it from the increasingly cluttered URL bar.

Cue the outrage and pleading for its return.

But just because the RSS button has lost its former position in the toolbar doesn’t mean you can’t easily subscribe to RSS feeds in Firefox 4. There’s a new menu option under the Bookmarks menu that will offer to “Subscribe to this page” and you can also add a subscribe button to your toolbar if you like. Just head to the customize option under the View menu and you’ll see a new toolbar button for RSS feed. Drag that button to the toolbar and you’ve restored the RSS button.

Given that seemingly no one used to original button, removing it hardly seems a bad thing, especially when it’s easy to get it back.

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File Under: Browsers

Firefox 4 Enters Home Stretch With Beta 9 Release

Firefox 4 beta 9Mozilla has released a new beta version of Firefox 4, as the next major update for the popular web browser nears completion. Firefox 4 beta 9 is primarily a bug fix release, though there a couple of small new features.

If you’d like to take Beta 9 for spin on your desktop, head over to the Mozilla beta downloads page. It’s been a very long development cycle for Firefox 4 — the final version isn’t likely to arrive until the end of February — however, the enhancements being made over versions 3.5 and 3.6 are substantial.

Fortunately for early adopters the beta releases are stable enough to use in day-to-day browsing, so it’s not like we’re waiting a long time for nothing. We can reap the rewards well before the official release date.

On the Windows platform, beta 9 now ships with the tabs-in-the-title-bar feature we covered earlier this month. Firefox 4 beta 9 also includes support for IndexedDB, which allows approved sites to store data on your computer for offline use. Other improvements include an overhaul of the bookmarks and history code, enabling faster bookmarking and improving Firefox’s startup performance.

The best news for those eagerly awaiting the final release of Firefox 4 is that beta 9 has squashed some 660 bugs. Indeed, beta 9 is among the fastest and stablest betas we’ve used, but it’s still not ready for prime time. Problems remain with the new tab-sorting interface — dubbed “Panorama” — and there are enough other small problems that it looks like we’ll see a beta 10 before Firefox 4 is official.

So far Mozilla is sticking to its “when it’s ready” slogan and has not set a final release date for Firefox 4. With the latest nightly builds already renamed to beta 10, you can expect one more beta. After that there will be at least one release candidate, which pushes the final release of Firefox 4 well into February.

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File Under: HTML5, JavaScript

Awesome Guitar Tab Mashup Showcases Audio Data API

Attention budding guitar players, the web just might turn into the best guitar teacher around.

The Mozilla hacks blog has details on an awesome web-based guitar tab player experiment from developer Greg Jopa. Using Mozilla’s experimental Audio Data API and the Vexflow HTML5 music notation rendering API, Jopa’s guitar tab player displays interactive sheet music that traces the notes of a song as it plays.

If you’re using Firefox 4, head over to the demo site to see the mashup in action. Other browsers won’t work, but the demo movie below shows how the guitar tab player works.

The reason this experiment only works in Firefox is because it uses Mozilla’s new Audio Data API, which gives web developers a way to interact with raw audio data in HTML5′s <video> and <audio> elements using JavaScript. With the Audio Data API, developers can read and write audio data within the browser, opening the doors for online tools like spectrum analyzers, audio remixing tools and 3D audio visualizations.

While Mozilla’s Audio Data API hasn’t been blessed by the W3C just yet, plenty of what we use on the web right now — XMLHttpRequest anyone? — started out exactly the same way. Because the web embraced XMLHttpRequest, it became a standard. Given this awesome experiment and some of the other great demos we’ve seen that use the Audio Data API, we’re really hoping the W3C adds the Audio Data API to the spec.

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