Firefox 13 Review
- Excellent standards support
- Cool bookmark organization with Panorama
- Lots of customization through extensions
- Pinned sites for all-the-time access
- Syncing for tabs, history, passwords and now Extensions
- Graphics hardware acceleration
- Lacks client-side tracking protection like that found in IE9
- Lacks Chrome's built in Flash, PDF reader, and Instant page view
- Trails Chrome in HTML5 support
- No new-tab page helpers
Firefox remains a lean, fast, compatible, customizable browser, and its new new-tab page and home page make it even more compelling.
Panorama and Pinned Tabs
With version 4, Firefox brought a revolutionary new way to organize tabs. Dubbed "Panorama," this feature helps those who like to have lots of tabs open. Just click the Mondrian icon all the way to the top-right of the window, and you'll see rectangles containing page thumbnails. You can drag tabs between groups, and resize and move the group boxes themselves around. You can even give a name to a tab group to keep organized.
When you click on a page thumbnail in any tab group, that page will maximize in the browser window, and you'll only see tabs from its group. It takes a bit of a rethinking, as you won't see all of your pages' tabs, but a click of the group icon gets you to them. I only wish that Panorama had some automation of the group creation, similar to IE's color grouping of tabs. And unlike Opera's nifty stacked-tabs, Firefox's groups are a click away on their own page, rather than always in front of you.
Another tab-related feature seems clearly Chrome-inspired—pinned tabs. If there are sites you always want access to, just as in Chrome, you can pin their tabs to the left side of the tab bar. These pinned tabs appear narrower, showing just the site icon. The pinned sites will also load automatically when you start Firefox. But you can't create an app shortcut icon for use on your desktop or Windows 7 taskbar, as you can with IE9 and Chrome.
Chrome and Opera have had bookmark and settings syncing for a while, but Firefox does an excellent job at implementing this on-the-go convenience. Not only will Firefox sync bookmarks and settings, but it also opens tabs, history, passwords, forms, and now Add-ons (including extensions). The data is encrypted locally so that no one can intercept those passwords while they're on their way to Mozilla's servers.
The setup creates a key that you need to enter into the other PCs or mobile devices running Firefox that you want to keep in sync; the process isn't arduous, but it's not as simple as Chrome's sign in. IE9 has yet to offer any syncing option. I'm still occasionally amazed to see the same page I was viewing at work 45 minutes ago magically waiting for me on my home copy of Firefox.
Add-ons (aka Extensions)
Firefox has long been praised and adopted for the multitude of customizations it offers through third-party extensions. Though Chrome and the rest now all offer extensions, too, Firefox's deliver the most in-depth browser modifications. I already mentioned the protection from app installations adding extensions without your knowledge in the "Install" section above. Since version 4, add-ons (which include third-party extensions) have been revamped inside and out in Firefox. The Jetpack add-on system is both easier for developers to create extensions and easier for consumers to use them.
Interface-wise, in another nod to Chrome, Firefox's add-ons manager now resides in what looks like a Web page. In its present form, it's a little harder to simply find the most popular extensions and their ratings, but you can still head to the Mozilla Web page for this. Firefox is still customizable in appearance, too, thanks to Personas and Themes.
Firefox extensions are now considered compatible as long as they ran in version 4, so you won't be left without cherished extensions after the upgrade. Extensions can also now hotfix themselves without user intervention.
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