Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Install Firefox 4.0 Beta on Ubuntu

Mozilla is gearing up towards releasing its much anticipated Firefox 4.0 not long from now. I wanted to get a feel of what users will be experiencing when it finally goes live, so I downloaded the latest Beta and I have to admit, this is Firefox on steroids!


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NEW FEATURES

Firefox 4.0 promises to raise the bar in many areas, ranging from security to speed and responsiveness. The Mozilla official FEATURE LOG covers the many new features and enhancements in depth. Here's my high level summary of some I find particularly interesting:

Tab Grouping

Firefox 4.0 allows users to create tab groups. This feature should make browsing the web somewhat simpler, specially when there are too many tabs open to make any sense of which is what. In all honesty, this is probably the feature I find less appealing, but that's just my personal take on the matter. If I had too many tabs open, I would simply open another instance of the browser, but I reckon I never go beyond six or seven.


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Synch up

One feature that I have come to love in Chromium is synchronization. It is not uncommon for me to work on more than 5 computers (or partitions), so keeping my browsers in synch in terms of bookmarks, history and overall settings has been a blessing for me. I was very much missing this feature in Firefox, so it is a very exciting addition!


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Fasten your seatbelts!

Another very important improvement relates to speed and overall responsiveness. Indeed, Firefox 4.0 loads quicker (still not as quick as Chromium, but getting very close) and also provides a much faster browsing experience, thanks partially to its brand new JägerMonkey JavaScript engine.

The image below shows a few charts that clearly convey the rate at which Firefox speed is growing through Beta development. If this rate is maintained all the way through the final release version, Firefox 4.0 may as well be up there with Chrome/Chromium in terms of speed!


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After testing the current Beta (v8), I have to say that the improvement in terms of speed and responsiveness over Firefox 3.6.12 is instantly noticeable. The browsing experience speed wise is very, very close to that of Chromium.

WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE?

With these many new features and enhancements, Firefox 4.0 will close the gap to the most "modern" browsers. Not just that, it will also incorporate new concepts, such as tab grouping, that may again become a reference for other browsers. Its heavily simplified interface gives it a more up to date Look&Feel as well, which should appeal to Google Chrome/Chromium fans.

People often claim Google Chrome/Chromium is the best way to go when it comes to browsing the web in Linux. In the last few months, specially with the recent release of Chromium 9 series, I have come close to agree with that. However, I still believe Firefox has a strong edge over Chrome/Chromium under Linux, mostly because of its much more solid OS integration. Here are some things I love about Firefox / hate about Chromium:

  • I love how Firefox does not force me to save files when I click on a link. Instead, it allows for automatic opening using the preferred applications I have set up, as well as saving the file if that's what I want to do. Preferred applications are sometimes a mess in Chromium, like when I am trying to browse a recently downloaded file in PCLinuxOS and it opens Konqueror instead of Dolphin.
  • Web sites which use Java applets are usually a problem in Chromium. For instance, I often download YouTube videos from KEEPVID.COM. I have no choice but to do it from Firefox, because Chromium never successfully loads the Java applet that provides the download links.
  • Links to .wav or .mp3 files can cause issues in Chromium as well, as it tries to load an internal player that must not be correctly configured to trigger the Linux audio server. Essentially, the player shows up but it does not play a thing.
  • Problems also appear in Chromium when a site is trying to display contents that should trigger an internal interpreter (say evince to load a PDF file or OpenOffice to load a PPS), which is often the case in Banking web apps. Long story short, Chromium fails and a "plugin is missing" error message usually shows up. This problem is particularly annoying if the website does not provide a download link to the file itself.
  • Chrome/Chromium theming and plugins have improved considerably, but they are still far off the quantity and quality levels available in Firefox.

For these and other reasons, I have never been able to leave Firefox completely. Chrome/Chromium is indeed very fast, but still lacks the solid integration and smooth functionality of the Mozilla browser.

INSTALLATION

If you also want to enjoy the latest Firefox in Ubuntu (works in Linux Mint as well), follow these simple steps:

1.- Open a terminal and type

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-mozilla-daily/ppa

2.- Update sources

sudo apt-get update

3.- Install Firefox 4.0 Beta

sudo apt-get install firefox-4.0

You can see Firefox 4.0 in the gorgeous Linux Mint Menu below.


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FINAL THOUGHTS

For some time now I have kept Chromium and Firefox on most of my installations. Chromium was faster and provided the synch feature I love so much. In turn, it was less robust and did not provide a fully functional integration within Linux. I can and have lived with two browsers installed, but the ideal scenario would be to keep just one that can cope with everything I need.

I hope that Firefox 4.0 continues to improve at the same rate it has all through Beta testing. If the case, I think it will be a no brainer for me to keep it as my only Internet browser!

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