Firefox Friday Five: 3.6.4, tabs-on-top, your own out-of-process plugins, HTML5 king of the hill, and making Firefox child-friendly!
Still, while I could use this entire feature to tell you why Firefox is awesome, I could just show you instead. Onwards!
1. Firefox 3.6.4 aka 'CRASH PROOF' released
If you missed it earlier this week -- or if your browser hasn't popped up a notification window -- Firefox 3.6.4 is now available. It fixes a bunch of security and stability issues, and it might even be a little faster!
The focus of 3.6.4's development cycle was on plug-in stability. When plug-ins like Adobe Flash Player, Microsoft Silverlight and Apple QuickTime plug-ins, they'll longer kill your entire browser. Mozilla hasn't focused on just Firefox plug-ins though! They launched their excellent cross-platform Plugin Check a few weeks ago. It works for every major browser, and if you (or a loved one) are not using Firefox, I strongly suggest you at least use the Plugin Check once a week.
2. Firefox 3.7 (4.0) beats out Internet Explorer 9 in an HTML5 speed test
It was close -- and by no means scientific (it's too hot to wear a lab coat) -- but Firefox 3.7 alpha 6 seems to out-perform Microsoft's newest browser offering, IE9.
Of course, it's still very early days for IE9 and things will change -- but hardware acceleration is also brand new to Firefox! Mozilla actually announced its hardware acceleration after Microsoft took the wraps off IE9. Ultimately though, we'll probably see very similar performance from both Firefox and IE because they both using Direct2D to leverage the latent, dormant untapped power of your GPU. In fact, any Windows-based browser that uses Direct2D for its hardware acceleration will probably perform in the same league. Both Chrome and Opera will both no doubt include hardware acceleration in future builds -- it's just a matter of how it will be implemented.
Yet again, as always, it will come down down to how browsers handle CSS(3)... and their standards compliance!
Zoodles, as its sickeningly cute name suggests, is a Firefox add-on for children
As I don't have children, I can't really maintain my journalistic integrity while reviewing this add-on, but I'll try. Let's just pretend that I have a son. He's called, er, Sebastian Jr. He wants to use the computer, but I'm worried that he'll stumble across those double penetration pop-up ads (XKCD). I could install one of many parental control programs, but not only are they expensive, they don't actually help your child -- they just make your computer safe. I could achieve the same effect by locking Sebastian Jr. in a padded room for the first 10 years of his life -- he might end up liking fava beans and a nice chianti, but at least he would be safe.
This is where Zoodles steps in. It's a Firefox add-on, so as you'd expect it does nothing more than modify your browser window. It's not CPU intensive and it doesn't cripple your PC in any other way. After setting up your child (no, not like that), Zoodles prepares a full-screen portal of fun and educational activities for your child. All they have to do is click -- fantastic!
Zoodles supports kids between the age of 3 and 8, and it's free (there's a premium version with a few more features tho'!).
As you know, Firefox 3.6.4's main feature is crash protection. It does this by running the three supported plug-ins (Flash, QuickTime, Silverlight) in another process. Those are the only three plug-ins that are protected though -- if Java crashes, for example, your browser will still fall over. Fortunately, you can add your own custom out-of-process plug-ins!
Mozilla Links has the original guide, but it's not very clear. Likewise, ghacks has a ton of abhorrent in-line advertisement links... so here are some easy-to-follow steps:
- Get the plug-in's filename -- type about:plugins into your Firefox address bar. Scroll down, find the plug-in you want to move to its own separate process. Java, for example, is npjp2.dll. Write down this name (or copy it to your clipboard).
- Now type about:config into the address bar -- right click and select New>Boolean. Paste dom.ipc.plugins.enabled. into the pop-up box (note the trailing period), followed by the plug-in name (npjp2.dll, or whichever plug-in you're enabling). You'll end up with something like dom.ipc.plugins.enabled.npjp2.dll
- Select 'true' in the next dialogue box -- and then restart the browser. Voila! If it works, you'll see a process called 'plugin-container.exe' when your new out-of-process plug-in is active.
5. Why Firefox 4.0 has its tabs on top
First of all: Firefox 4 will use an Opera-esque tabs-on-top UI. Second of all: don't worry, you can revert back to address-bar-on-top if you're a conservative cave-dwelling troglodyte.
With that out of the way, watch the video! You might need to slow it down or even pause regularly if you want to understand what he's talking about (was he a rapper in a previous life, or merely cannonballing through a script? I can't decide.) Mozilla puts forward a rational argument for putting the tabs on top -- and if you want to take a closer look at the mock-up designs shown in the video, check out Mozilla's blog post.
Tabs-on-top combined with pinned 'app' tabs and per-tab notifications is exactly what the next wave of HTML5-powered the-browser-is-the-platform apps require. I for one can't wait to get my hands on Firefox 4!