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Firefox Friday: a round-up of this week's Firefox releases and news

firefox 4 logoStop! Stop your Friday afternoon it's-only-two-hours-until-weekend procrastination! Focus on this tab for just a moment because I have a lot to tell you. We've covered so much Firefox news this week that you can't possibly have read it all. You need this round-up like you need a Friday beer.

Enough waffling... let's rock.

Firefox 4 Beta 7 has been released for Windows, Mac and Linux

Almost two months late, Mozilla finally squeezed out the first feature-complete Firefox 4 Beta. Beyond the fact that FF4 has a staggering number of new features, it's not clear why the browser is slipping so behind schedule. Still, if everything goes to plan, we should see three more beta releases followed by a release candidate around February or March.

If you haven't yet tried out Firefox 4, now's the time to take it for a spin. There are still plenty of rough edges, but my guide should walk you through most of the cool new features. Most importantly, thanks to the inclusion of a suped-up JavaScript engine in this new build, you'll quickly notice that FF4 is now as fast as Google Chrome.

Make pages load 20% faster in Firefox

It turns out, with just the flick of a few about:config flags, that you can make Firefox a whole lot faster. Your browser cache, which stores all of your downloaded images, Flash elements and CSS files, usually resides on your hard drive. Your hard drive is pretty fast, but you can definitely feel the crunch if you like to multitask and switch between tabs regularly. If you move your browser cache into RAM, performance can be increased by a significant margin.

There was some concern from Download Squad readers that RAM-only cache might somehow decrease performance of your browser -- but that really shouldn't be the case. It might be a little slower the first time you load a site, but subsequent hits should be a lot faster.

Mozilla Labs F1 is an example of how social sharing should be done

This week saw the release of RockMelt (the 'Facebook browser') and then just a couple of days later, Mozilla followed suit with F1. They're both very different approaches to the same problem: social sharing. When you visit a cool site or watch a funny video, almost everyone wants to share it. Some sites have great built-in mechanisms (like YouTube's AutoShare), but most resort to a clusterfu 'kitchen sink' of sharing buttons. Click here to share on Twitter! Click here to share on Facebook!

RockMelt gets around this by populating a sidebar with your Facebook friends. It takes just two clicks to share a page with a friend -- and then you can use the sexy built-in Facebook Chat client to discuss it some more! The only problem is, you have to download a custom Chromium-based browser to use it.

Mozilla takes a much more minimal approach: just hit a button and you're given the option of sharing the current page on Twitter, Facebook or Gmail. F1 works with Firefox 3 and 4, and you ought to give it a go.

Firefox 4 costumeFirefox is now six years old

It feels like only yesterday that Phoenix arose from the ashes as... a fox. Yes, Firefox used to be called Phoenix, and then Firebird, and then finally settled on the name Firefox in time for the 1.0 release in 2004. The browser might still have been called Phoenix if it wasn't for a trademark issues with Phoenix Technologies. I'm brutally honest, I'm still not sure why the animal of choice changed from bird to fox -- but after a long, hard look at the photo on the right, can I really complain?

Finally, let's not forget that Firefox is still a baby compared to Opera and Internet Explorer. Opera is very nearly 14 years old, and Internet Explorer is a positively geriatric 15!

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If you love that femme fox above, check out the Firefox Costumes photo album on Facebook. It's hard to choose a favorite, but I'd probably pick this one.

Tags: birthday, browsers, cache, cosplay, f1, ff4, firebird, firefox 4, firefox friday five, Firefox4, FirefoxFridayFive, mozilla, mozilla labs, MozillaLabs, performance, phoenix, round-up, roundup