Whew! Alright, lots of Mozilla Firefox goodness to write about here, so let’s get to it! First off, in case you haven’t yet heard, Firefox 6 should soon be officially announced (August Sixteenth) and should also be available to Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) and Linux Mint 11 (Katya) users with nothing further needed than a standard update once it is added to the official repositories!
Firefox 6 will also be the initial version available in the upcoming Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) release! Firefox 7 will actually be the initial version available in the upcoming Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) release (which is looking to be even better and faster)!
Following Mozilla’s new rapid-release development cycle, there isn’t anything major in this release. The most obvious front-end change will likely be that the domain name in the address bar is now highlighted while the rest of the address is a bit greyed out. So, for example in your address bar, ainer.org would be black while the rest of the address would be a lighter shade of grey. Additionally, I have noticed that this is the first release in which Firefox’s toolbars can be configured to take up less vertical space than Chromium. This requires some fairly aggressive rearranging of the address bar and tabs onto a single toolbar, but it can be done! Though, even if you’re not willing to go to such extremes (see the image), Firefox’s default toolbar layout is only a pixel or few taller than Chromiums! For the rest of the changes, the complete list for the version 6 release beta can be found here with a shorter, but more readable list available here. There may be a few different changes highlighted in the official Firefox 6 announcement, but the actual change-list should be much the same due to no new features being added during the beta phase of the development cycle.
I have been testing the last few Firefox 6 betas and have encountered issues with only a few pages, but otherwise it has been quite stable (no crashes have been encountered) and it seems quite a bit faster from versions 4 and 5. Admittedly, I have not confirmed this through benchmarking and comparing metrics, but it is the first version of Firefox in a while that didn’t send me immediately back to the latest version of Chromium. Also, compared to Chromium, some pages have worked in Firefox 6 that did not work in Chromium 12. So, unfortunately, no perfect solution as it currently stands, but hopefully these bugs will be ironed out in time for the final release or during the Firefox 7 or 8 development cycles.
For those that don’t wish to wait for Firefox 6 to come available through the official repositories, or for those that wish to begin testing the next version (7) as soon as the beta becomes available, the Firefox Next Personal Package Archive (PPA) is the ideal way to keep your system up-to-date. Installing this PPA to your Ubuntu system via the Update Manager, Settings, and Other Software tab (and then updating your system) will grant you access to the latest and greatest Firefox beta that is currently available!
Also, for those that may have ran beta versions of Firefox in the past (prior to April, 2011), the beta channel is now officially licensed and as such provides you with a properly named copy of Firefox (with the Firefox logo and everything!). Traditionally, Firefox would have been called Minefield (even at the beta level) and was a bit messy to install as your system would have both Minefield and the most recent stable version of Firefox along-side each other. Note that this is still true if you’re more adventurous and go to the developmental (Aurora) or nightly PPA’s, but that stands to reason as those versions will be more prone to crashes and usability issues that may require a concurrent stable install of Firefox for regular usage.
Apart from playing with the latest and greatest semi-stable features that Firefox has to offer, installing the Firefox-Next PPA and running the latest Firefox beta has another benefit in being able to participate in the development of the Firefox browser itself! One way to do this is to simply submit feedback via the super quick and handy, Firefox Made Me Happy or Sad Because…. icons or menu options. Additionally, you can choose to participate in the Mozilla Labs Test Pilot program. This program involves participating in monthly or bi-monthly directed studies by simply allowing Mozilla Labs to collect data pertaining to certain browsing or browser usage habits and then (optionally) submitting them back to Mozilla Labs at the conclusion of the data collection period.
If this interests you, but you’re concerned about your privacy, Mozilla Labs explains how the data is used in their Test Pilot FAQ. The most recent Test Pilot program was the Firefox New Tab Page Multivariate Test and the data collection phase of this program has recently concluded, but the results have not yet been published (so bookmark the link if interested!).
Now, before we wrap this up, and for any that may be curious about Ainer.org’s Web Browser Recommendations page, or more specifically when it might be updated and if Firefox will still be our recommendation. The answers are soon, and most-likely.
Chromium is an excellent browser, and still faster than Firefox (though Firefox is definitely working towards catching up quick like and is still lighter on memory usage!), but over-all, the most consistent, user-friendly browser seems to be Firefox. Had Firefox not made such significant progress since version 4 was released, we probably would have switched our recommendation to Chromium (and in fact, sedux and I are still doing a bit of back and forth over this), but with these recent improvements in speed, the ongoing support for user privacy and ease of use, the fact that it is the default web browser in both Ubuntu and Linux Mint, and includes (finally!) major version updates throughout the Ubuntu releases (since 11.04, Natty Narwhal), as well as the more developed plug-in API that allows for more effective plug-ins such as HTTPS Everywhere, Firefox will likely hold Ainer.org’s recommendation for the foreseeable future.
Cheers all and thanks for reading!