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Firefox 4 rounds out action-packed Web browser season

March 18, 2011

Apparently March is Web browser season.Firefox4

On Monday, Microsoft unveiled Internet Explorer 9, the latest update of its browser, and trumpeted its 2.3 million downloads in the first 24 hours of availability. Earlier this month, Google unveiled the newest version of its browser, Chrome 10.

Now it’s Mozilla’s turn. More than a year in the making, Firefox 4 will be make its debut on Tuesday, bringing faster performance and a handful of new features.

And in a few weeks, the folks at Mozilla say they will release the first full-fledged version of Firefox for smartphones based on Google’s Android operating system (don’t expect an iPhone version of Firefox anytime soon, as Mozilla executives say that Apple’s terms of service prohibit third-party apps that boast standalone browser engines).

The flurry of new releases comes as competition in the browser market heats up. While Microsoft remains the dominant browser maker, the market share of Internet Explorer has slipped from roughly 68 percent two years ago, to 57 percent in February, with much of the gains going to new entrant Google, according to data on the Net Applications website.

Firefox is the No.2 player with roughly 22 percent share.

The new version of Firefox delivers a performance improvement that will make it six times faster than its predecessors, Firefox 3.6, according to Mozilla.

The browser also sports a slew of innovative new features including App Tabs, which allow you to create special tabs for your most frequently visited Web sites (think Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, etc). Those tabs are always parked in the top-left corner of the browser’s toolbar, eliminating the need to manually reload each site every morning when you start your Web browsing session.

The new Firefox also supports a Do Not Track privacy feature. And you no longer need to re-start the browser if you want to install add-ons to Firefox.

Mozilla executives also point out that whereas Internet Explorer 9 won’t work on PCs running Microsoft’s older Windows XP operating system, Firefox 4 will continue to support XP.

Whether any of this will be enough to shift the balance of power in the browser battles will become clear in the months ahead. But after a long period of glacial development, Web browsers have entered into a new age of progress.

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