For years, Firefox has trundled along at the back of the browser pack, a beast of burden laden with fancy features but lacking speed. Not anymore. Mozilla has released Firefox 4, and in our preliminary tests, the browser makes a huge performance leap forward.
Firefox 4 packs a few other happy improvements under the hood. It now offers full support for CSS3 transforms and transitions, and hugely enhanced support for CSS3 animations. Built-in hardware acceleration vastly speeds up page rendering; however, in a Mozilla-created “stress test,” my computer and browser only eked out 2 frames per second when attempting 3D transformations on multiple 2D images. Firefox 4’s superb support for WebGL 3D graphics, Google’s new WebM open source video codec, and OpenType font rendering left me much more impressed.
Firefox 4’s interface changes are a somewhat mixed bag. Tabs now top the URL bar, Chrome-style, and you can now jump directly to a tab by starting to type its name in the “awesome bar” –nice, but nothing major. I liked the “app tab” feature, which lets you shift Gmail, Google Docs, and other much-used Web apps into tiny, space-saving icon tabs at the far left of the tab list.
The ability to group tabs by dragging and dropping left me cold, though. You must switch to an entirely separate screen, and drag tabs one by one into groups. The whole process just added an extra layer of clutter and confusion to my browsing.
We’re working on a full review of Firefox 4. For now, Firefox 4 looks like a happy compromise between speed-demon performance and a polished interface.
[Nathan Alderman is a writer and editor in Alexandria, Va.]