After 12 betas, 1 release candidate, and more than a year of work Mozilla has officially released Firefox 4, the latest version of its popular open-source browser. In the first 24 hours since it has become available, Firefox 4 has been downloaded over 5 million times, according to Mozilla’s official download stats page. In comparison, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 was downloaded 2.35 million times in its first 24 hours of availability.
Available for download on Windows, Linux, and Mac, The new version of Firefox 4 introduces a much-improved user interface, significant performance enhancements, strong support for the latest Web standards, and noteworthy new features like built-in support for synchronizing bookmarks and other browser data.
The new release arrives at a time when the Web is enjoying an unprecedented level of competition and a rapid pace of evolution, with the release of Internet Explorer 9 last week and with a “new kid on the block” steadily gaining market share, Google’s Chrome.
Firefox 4 has a dramatically redesigned user interface that's quite a departure from the one seen in previous versions, but it also bears a striking resemblance to Google Chrome. The tabs now sit above the address bar which, combined with the lack of a menu bar, maximizes the amount of screen space devoted to actual web content. A Windows Start menu-style Firefox menu contains the most common menu commands with the Bookmarks menu accessible from the Bookmarks toolbar, if you choose to leave it visible. It's possible to restore a more traditional appearance though, with a menu bar and tabs below the address bar.
Tabbed browsing has been given a makeover with an intriguing new feature called Tab Groups. Multiple windows full of tabs can be managed from a single visual overview without cluttering up your desktop and Task Bar with lots of windows. This is useful if you're addicted to tabbed browsing and juggle tabs related to different tasks and projects. Tabs can be dragged and dropped between groups, groups can named or resized so, for example, more important Tab Groups are bigger than less important ones.
Like Chrome, individual tabs can be 'pinned' so that they can't be closed which is useful for web applications, such as Google Docs, that you might always want accessible. If you start typing the address of a web page that's already open in another tab, Firefox offers to take you to that tab without reloading the page.
Being a loyal Firefox user for years, recently I made the switch to Chrome as my default browser. My decision was based solely on speed, the quicker I can open web pages the better. With Firefox’s new speed enhancements redesigned interface, I might just have to switch back.