Some time ago, Mozilla put out a release candidate for Firefox 4, and my first reaction was how close the new interface looked to that of Chrome. Since that time, Firefox 4 has officially launched, and I decided to take a closer look at the rival browser. What is it that makes Chrome and Firefox 4 different now that the latter looks so much like Google’s own browser?
Well, they aren’t completely the same. Firefox has different menus that are spread out across the browser. For example, it still has all of its old menus but they are now tucked in to a menu on the right that is called “Firefox”. The browser also still has one menu for URLs and one for a search box. When I installed the browser the default search engine was Bing. Compared to older versions of Firefox, this area certainly feels much more compact. Indeed, the size in height of these text boxes are smaller than Chrome’s Omnibox.
One thing you’ll find within Firefox 4 is an integrated solution for managing your tabs. It’s called Panorama, and it gives you a visual representation of your tabs since once you have so many open it’s really quite hard to tell what’s going on. I like the idea of Panorama, but I have to remind myself that there are extensions for Chrome that can do this as well with different types of graphical solutions that are available.
Yet there are different ways you can use Panorama – for example, you can group you tabs into categories, and even do a search which is something that should definitely be a feature in Chrome! There’s also a Switch to Tab feature that has been implemented in limited fashion the same way in Chromium; you type in something, and if the tab is already open it switches to it automatically.
Sync is another new feature that has been added, and certainly something that is welcomed in modern browsers. Now you never have to worry about moving from computer to computer with the ability to save user information whether it is on Windows, Firefox or Mac. It will, however, require that you set up an separate Firefox Sync account in order for this to work.
One of the major overhauls in Firefox 4 is increased support for HTML5. Mozilla has been touting for some time now its open web app marketplace, and in order for them to advance this cause they need to be at the forefront of this technology. You can see through their HTML5 demo page some examples that showcase the addition of CSS 3, WebGL and APIs that include geolocation and dragging and dropping of files.
While we’re on the subject, let’s take a look at some other performance benchmarks as tested by Lifehacker.
It’s crystal clear how much of an influence Chrome is having on the development of Firefox by Mozilla. There’s nothing wrong with a little competition, since it fosters innovation. Let’s also not forget that Firefox is still way ahead of Chrome in the latest market share measurements that are available.
I’m starting to question what direction Firefox is going, however. Their open app initiative is a good-hearted attempt to offer something to compete with the Chrome Web Store, but I wonder how many developers are going to work with it. But having an alternative is not a bad idea. This is still very early stages for web applications.