There’s no question that Mozilla Firefox is now the browser of choice for many consumers and business users alike. However, Google Chrome has quickly been gaining steam as a Firefox alternative, and many people have been tempted to make the switch. After testing the new interface and features in Firefox 4 beta 1 (released yesterday), it’s clear that Mozilla has responded to the potential threat of Google in full force.
Our first reaction when seeing Firefox’s new design is that it looks an awful lot like Chrome. Firefox now sports a streamlined, minimalist aesthetic with tabs on top of the screen. On Windows 7 and Vista, the typical menu items have been consolidated into an all-purpose “Firefox button” for easy access. Moreover, the bookmarks bar has now turned into a bookmarks button, which puts all of your bookmarks into a single list. While this does take up less space when browsing normally, personally we’d rather sacrifice a few pixels for the convenience of the bookmarks bar.
Another addition is a feature dubbed “switch-to-tab.” If you start typing the title of one of your open tabs in the URL bar, it will let you quickly switch to that tab. If you enjoy multitasking, this feature makes it simple to navigate without having to scroll through a sea of tabs. The Add-Ons Manager has now been revamped into a full tab rather than a small window. The new Add-Ons tab is easier to use and has a great visual style.
Of course, many people probably won’t warm up to all of Firefox’s visual changes at first. Thankfully, Mozilla allows users to change most of the interface so it looks much closer to Firefox 3.6, with a bookmarks bar, regular menu options, and tabs below the toolbars. While this may sound minor, it’s definitely important to note that Mozilla is making an effort to please everyone, including those that are afraid of change.
During our short time with Firefox 4 beta 1, the program booted up fast and loaded pages quickly. Despite the fact that this is an early beta, we didn’t see any bugs and (thankfully) it never crashed.
Since Firefox 4 is still in development, this beta is missing some features, including being able to sync your settings and bookmarks across multiple devices and new privacy controls. The new interface will soon be ported to Linux and Mac OS X as well. The browser also has new enhancements “under the hood,” including support for WebM and enhanced privacy protection.
While it probably won’t convince Chrome users to switch back to Firefox, Firefox 4 beta 1 proves that Mozilla isn’t willing to let Google hog the spotlight. The new interface is simple to use and it ran smoothly. We’re definitely excited for the next beta release of Firefox 4 to see how the other new features turn out. Check out our gallery below.