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Mozilla stokes Firefox 4 with first beta build

New look tabs get Windows-only view on world for now

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Mozilla has released a first beta of Firefox 4, which comes loaded with lots of fresh features and a distinctive new look.

In January the open source browser maker nixed Firefox 3.7 and jumped instead to Firefox 4 in a move to reflect the number of changes it was making to the popular surfing tool.

The current iteration of Firefox is 3.6. Firefox 4 will supersede that later this summer when the finalised code is expected to be released.

“If you are using a Windows PC, the most noticeable new feature will be the look of the browser,” noted Mike Beltzner on Mozilla’s blog.

“We moved the tabs to the top to make it easier to focus on the web content and easier to control the tools in your web browser. Also, if you have Windows 7 or Windows Vista the Menu bar was replaced with a single Firefox button so you can get to the most used options with just one click. These changes will be coming soon for Mac and Linux.”

Beltzner was keen to express that the latest Firefox beta wasn’t simply “a facelift on Windows”. It also comes with a new add-ons management tool for users to fiddle with their plug-ins and themes.

Browser privacy has been improved, he said, with the beta fixing flaws in some web standards that could have exposed a user’s surfing history.

HD video support has been injected into the beta, allowing people to watch HTML5 vids on YouTube using the new WebM format.

More importantly, Beltzner and his team think they’ve cracked the problem of crashes and performance problems in Firefox - which have become contentious issues for some users of the browser.

El Reg readers have been very vocal critics of recent versions of Firefox by complaining that the browser has become bloated and moved too far away from its original development goals.

With so-called “crash protection” built into the Firefox 4 beta, users can “experience uninterrupted browsing (now available on all platforms) - when a plugin crashes or freezes, you can resume browsing by simply refreshing the page,” explained Beltzner.

At the same time, Mozilla has been trying to beef up performance in Firefox, though it concedes there’s still a long way to go on that score.

“We know that performance is important. In this version, we focused on improving responsiveness at start-up and during page loads. This is just the beginning for performance improvements in Firefox 4,” Beltzner said.

As for the underlying code, Mozilla has added an HTML5 parser, called WebSockets, that allows developers to create yet more real-time integration for the Web2.0 wasteland, as well as IndexedDB for web apps to use structured storage.

There is also a web console analysis tool for coders to look at “dynamic websites” and easier add-on development tools with the use of the much-hyped (by Mozilla at least) Jetpack SDK.

The beta can be downloaded here, and Mozilla has the full rundown of what’s been loaded into the build here. ®

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