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Firefox Friday, a weekly round-up: Beta 4, Beta 5, Panorama, breaking add-ons and our Private Browsing habits analyzed

This week has produced some fantastic Firefox news. That's a good thing, but because we covered it all on Download Squad in a timely fashion, it leaves me with a bit of a problem: there's no new news to share with you. I've been left with producing a round-up for this week's Firefox column. I've never done a round-up before, but I'm sure it'll be good.

I think I'm meant to take each nibble of news and provide a refreshing, opinionated point of view that throws it into a new light. Let's start with one that got a lot more interest than we anticipated:

1. Firefox 4 Beta 5 will feature a two-column main menu

I think I actually told Lee that this one wasn't worth posting..., how wrong I was!
"It's like one of those Google-search-box-grows-by-18-pixels stories." Personally, I hate Chrome's unified wrench menu, and I'm disheartened to see it make an appearance in Firefox.

This is the next stage of the Web Revolution; where the browser was once your trusty portal to the Web, it will now become a svelte platform for other Web apps. Think of the new Firefox menu as a Windows Start menu, and you'll see what I mean. In fact, I wonder if we'll ever see a browser menu at the bottom of the window, rather than the top...

At least, with Firefox, you can keep the full menu bar -- with Chrome, you're stuck with that damn one-button wrench wonder!

2. Tab Candy, Tab Sets, PANORAMA is confirmed as a new feature of Firefox 4

The brainchild of maniacal, Mountain View-based Aza Raskin has a new name, a new look, and even an introductory video on the Firefox Beta site! It sounds like it's being narrated by someone that's seeking entrance to the Movie Trailer Voice Over Society, but it's well worth watching.

Panorama, if you missed our introductory posts on its predecessor Tab Candy, introduces a whole new paradigm in tab management and, thus, browser-based workflow! Using the "out of sight, out of mind" tenet, Aza hopes that Panorama will greatly improve both productivity and the joy of surfing the Internet. (He pontificates on Pover on his blog, if you want to find out more!)

Of course, if you're an Opera fan, you'll know all about tab grouping, and you won't need me to tell you of its benefits...
3. Erez thinks that Firefox 4.0's extensive changes to its add-on framework are too much too soon

You'd be surprised, but one of the biggest changes in Firefox 4 is also one of the least-advertised: add-ons, and how they hook into Firefox, are changing in a big way with the release of 4.0.

There's always a bit of compatibility pain when a new version of Firefox is released -- usually it's just a matter of developers changing a few numbers in the code -- but with Firefox 4.0 there are so many changes that many popular add-ons might simply not work.

I don't have any hard and fast numbers (nor does Erez) as to how many add-ons will be incompatible come FF4's release, so it's hard to gauge just how big an issue this is. I'm pretty sure this is a case of "it'll get worse before it gets better," with these changes designed to make the transition to Jetpack (in Firefox 5?) smoother. Firefox 4 currently supports both Jetpack and the old-style XUL add-ons that we've all been using for years -- but these changes represent the beginning of the end for XUL, I'm afraid.

4. A Test Pilot study shows when we use Private Browsing, and for how long (read: porn surfers unite!)

The facts are simple: we use Private Browsing for 10 minutes at a time, and we use it during four main time slots. The late-night and after-work spikes are obvious (porn), but that lunch-hour spike has caused a lot of discussion by the community.

I think people are masturbating at work, but then the puritan Adam Pash (of Lifehacker fame) thinks there are plenty of non-porny uses of Private Browsing. I'm not convinced; yes there are plenty of reasons for using Private Browsing but they don't explain why 75% of all private sessions are close to 10 minutes in length. Perhaps people are doing multiple 10-minute activities, but why would you close the browser in between checking your bank statement and Facebook?

I just hope the next Test Pilot study also (anonymously!) captures what sites are looked at in those 10 glorious minutes.

5. Firefox 4 won't support your ancient PowerPC G4 Apple iBook

I'm struggling to find anything interesting to add to Jay's commentary of the issue. The facts of the matter are thus: the G4 iBook probably represents only a few thousand installations world wide. In fact, the iBook is only still used because of Carrie from Sex and the City. Mozilla, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that it isn't a valid use of its time to make its new technology work with 11-year-old CPUs.

Anyway, Jay's advice is to get a new Mac. My advice is to get a Windows 7 PC.

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Tags: add-on, beta, firefox, firefox 4.0, firefox friday five, Firefox4.0, FirefoxFridayFive, menu, panorama, porn, powerpc, private browsing, PrivateBrowsing, round-up, roundup, tab candy, TabCandy, test pilot, TestPilot