Firefox 4 Review

I first downloaded Firefox in my freshman year of college. (Thanks, Andrew!) It took a while to get used to tabs, but I quickly realized they were even better than Microsoft XP’s ability to stack multiple instances of the same program into those cute little menus–and that was a pretty sweet feature once I got into web design. But once I switched to tabs, I knew Internet Explorer would need something huge to turn me back. After IE 8 blurred my screen so badly that I couldn’t read the text on Google (Google! It doesn’t even have that many words!), I never went back. I don’t even know what version of IE came pre-installed on my PC, but I only ever use it if Windows Update tries to force me.

Firefox, IE, and Opera as women

photo by Agustin Diaz

I jumped on FF4 relatively quickly. I wasn’t quite prepared for the shock of such a radically new design, but it’s growing on me. Here are my pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Pin tabs: Now, I can get Gmail, my work Gmail, Google Calendar, facebook, and Google Reader to load automatically in separate tabs when I start Firefox. “FF3 did that,” you say. But now, they each get pinned tabs that are only the width of a favicon. They stay out of the way when I have other tabs open, they only close when I do it on purpose, and they light up blue (which looks great against my purple and black Persona when there’s new information.*
  • Paste & Go: I don’t actually use a mouse on my laptop, but I’m also using FF4 at work. Sometimes I copy and paste a normal-text link from a site and right-click to paste it in the Awesome Bar. In FF3, I had to then press Enter to get the site to load. (I think there was a Go arrow, but I never used it, not even in FF3). Now, there’s a context menu option called Paste & Go. Two steps in one! It’s not one of the additions the “learn to use this shiny new browser” site mentions, but it is a huge benefit for me.
  • Increased screen real estate: I read a lot of blogs and online articles, so having more space to see sites without scrolling is a significant improvement. Now, when I press F11 to go full-screen, I get the full screen. The menu button, tab bar, and navigation toolbars all slide right out of view so I can be So Focusing Girl.
  • Tab bar above navigation bar: Moving it up so high forces me to concentrate more on each tab. Usually, that’s a good thing. I get distracted.
  • Status bar now a pop-up: I don’t really miss it. I remember an awful, awful Javascript trick I used to see that would scroll a message through the status bar automatically. It was almost as tacky as glitter and unicorns. Oh, Internet of 1994, how you still embarrass us.
  • Bookmarks toolbar still accessible: I was reluctant to turn off my bookmarks toolbar. After refusing to use it for a long time, I enabled it a while ago and got hooked. One-click access to things like the events calendar for work is so crucial. I was worried that the Awesome Bar would take too long to slog through my history to find the pages that were once in the bookmarks toolbar, but it worked flawlessly, marking those sites with a star in the search-as-you-type results. I actually said, “Awesome!”
  • Flexible text input boxes: Usually a site will only display properly if its text input boxes are left at the appropriate size. Apparently, FF4 has the ability to dynamically adjust the vertical (and sometimes horizontal) layout to fit a text box if you drag the thing that looks like an arrow made out of dots. It’s odd, but kind of neat.
  • Incompatible Add-ons: This is indeed a pro. I did a little Googling when the Delicious add-on was incompatible with FF4 and found out how to override the browser’s stopping me from adding it. Done and done. (And it led me to the news that Yahoo’s disowning Delicious. Ouch, but I’m glad I at least found out!)
  • Combined stop/reload button: I had to learn that it was one button and now in place of the Go button I never used, but it’s definitely an improvement. Start the loading and stop the loading in the same place. Why didn’t someone think of that before?

How Firefox 4 looks to me

Cons:

  • Tab bar above navigation bar: This one’s a con, too. The raised position of the tab bar took some getting used to. I kept looking for the tabs below the bookmarks menu (which I no longer have). It’s growing on me, though, and making me realize how infrequently I used the menus anyway.
  • Back button drop-down: Sometimes I wander down the garden path in a tab for quite a while before realizing I need to jump back several pages. I thought I had to click the back button to go back one page at a time with FF4, and I was mildly furious, but I accidentally right-clicked and the menu popped right up. I guess getting right of that saved some space, but I could have used a heads-up.
  • Status bar now a pop-up: Only a slight also-con with this one. Without the space at the bottom of the page, Personas are way less useful.

The pros have it. There are other “improved” features, but this is what I’ve got so far. Firefox 4 is taking some getting used to, but I’m sold.

*For interested parties, I use a Persona at work. It seemed highly appropriate with my Hail Mary desktop wallpaper (tenth row).



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From experience, I believe uninstalling a few add-ons will decrease loading times (like the SEO toolbar). I’ve also been able to free some RAM but I didn’t realize it was only 10%. I really like the idea that they’re able to provide a warning for add-on toolbars. I’m not a big fan of downloading these, but I always pay careful attention to any SUN installation that I do (they have to make money some how right?). If you’re interested, we also wrote a post about some add-ons that improve the Firefox experience. You can check it out here:http://www.softwarecrew.com/2011/04/10-great-add-ons-for-tweaking-customising-and-improving-firefox-4/

[…] screen where I could “choose which account I wanted to use with Google Docs.” When Firefox 4 premiered and introduced app tabs, I set my work Firefox to open my Apps email and my regular Google calendar […]

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