Impressions of Firefox 4 beta 7

I’ve been running the beta builds of the forthcoming version of Firefox for a while, I think since beta 3 since beta 1. Each has been an incremental improvement with a couple of notable standouts like the addition of Panorama (formerly Tab Candy). I was expecting beta 7 to be an incremental improvement over 6. My very first impression seemed to bear that out, noticing that the default Linux theme had finally received a little love.

Working with the dashboard on my blog, though, I realized something was substantially different–everything was responding way faster. My server is not a very beefy machine, I had assumed that the slow loading of the dashboard and other management pages to be a consequence of using a relatively cheap virtual private server. The difference between beta 6 and beta 7 is night and day. There is no escaping that this build of Firefox 4 is smoking.

Ryan Paul at Ars Technica would seem to agree.

During our tests of the new beta, we were consistently impressed by its outstanding performance and greatly improved responsiveness. It delivers highly competitive performance and puts Firefox back on an even footing with its rivals.

The rest of his short post gives a quick accounting of the other features and changes to land in the new build. He also links to the official release notes and a download link. There has been some speculation that this build represents feature complete, Paul doesn’t comment.

The H has some more information on this beta and also a pretty ambitious date for the next one: tomorrow. I wonder if that is supposed to be December 12th?

Beyond the speed, I have found some frustrations with the UI changes, at least on Linux. The status bar is now gone. Link hover has been moved to the awesome bar, I not sure whether I like or hate that change. Lacking a status bar, though, initially stumped me on how I would access some of my regular add ons. I realized when perusing the View menu trying to see if there was a way to restore the bar that there is now an Addon Bar. It doesn’t include the progress bar and link hover text of the old status bar, but at least provides a space for add ons to reveal their icons.

A friend on twitter, @alexbischoff, sent me a link to Status-4-Evar. This extension doesn’t quite restore the status bar but lets you add a tool bar onto which you can drag the link hover and progress bar from the tool bar customization dialog. You can then move this toolbar to the bottom of the browser.

Update: See Alex’s comment below for a more accurate description of what the Status-4-Evar add on does.

I have already made some adjustments and am giving the new status bar-less layout a chance before installing yet another add on. I have noticed that one add on, No Script, doesn’t really need that status bar icon. I wonder if the change might prompt add on authors to think more about integrating into the context menu, the tool menu, and sparingly making use of overlays.

At all events, a few UI paper cuts seem to be a good trade for the incredible speed burst this beta has delivered.

4 Replies to “Impressions of Firefox 4 beta 7”

  1. We may already be talking about the same thing, but as far as the Status-4-Evar extension, once you’ve enabled the Add-on Bar, it’s essentially just another toolbar. So, if you enable the Add-on Bar (née status bar), right-click on it and choose “Customize”, you can then drag the “Status-4-Evar” widget onto it.

    (At that point, your Add-on Bar should be nearly identical to your former “status bar”.)

  2. It’s good to hear that the latest beta is faster, but…well, I guess I’m just getting old. It seems like every technology “update” I hear about seems like either a step in the wrong direction, or merely a waste of processor cycles.

    I’m not really huge on the status bar – I don’t use it all that much, personally, and I can see having an option to remove it (oh, hey, there it is in the “View” menu of Firefox 3.6.12), but why remove it entirely? Are there really thousands, or hundreds, or even just dozens of people who are clamoring to have it removed? The only reason that I can see to remove it to be like Google’s Chrome…and imitating your competitors seems like a poor way to come up with a better product.

    The above being said…I still believe that Firefox is the best browser currently available. Chrome doesn’t seem bad (although I’ve only used for maybe four hours total), but I can’t live without AdBlock Plus, NoScript, and Tab Mix Plus. Xmarks is nice too, but it’s being replaced by built-in synchronization options – I just hope that the built-in synch is as configurable as Xmarks is today.

    1. That is still possible. Hover your cursor over a link and look at the awesome bar. You should see an angular vertical divider and some or all of the link’s target url in gray text to the right.

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