After months of delays, twelve betas, and two release candidates, Mozilla released Firefox 4 today for Windows XP, Vista, and 7, the Intel versions of Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6, and Linux.
I’ve written before about the Firefox development schedule, so you already know that I think Firefox 4 took just a bit too long to get here – the first beta of Firefox 4 came in July and the IE9 beta didn’t come out until September, and the Internet Explorer team still beat Mozilla to release by a few days – but now that the browser is finally out, what does it offer its users?
For starters, all users get a redesigned tabs-on-top interface that is being compared to Chrome but is actually more similar to recent Opera releases – in Windows, the tabs are all above the address bar, and a large button in the upper-left corner of the screen provides access to browser settings.
Windows XP users don’t get tabs on tab by default – Mozilla decided to keep the old menu bar exposed by default for users of this older OS – but it can easily be enabled by going to View, then to Toolbars, and then unchecking the Menu Bar.
By the same token, all Windows users can re-enable a more classic Firefox look by enabling the Menu Bar and unchecking Tabs on Top in the same menu.
In Mac OS X, the tabs are above the address bar, and a standard OS X title bar rests upon that. This is, again, different from Google Chrome, which retains the same basic layout across all operating systems.
The new Firefox also differs from Chrome and IE9 in that it continues to retain separate URL and search boxes – I often find myself typing search items in the address bar by mistake, but whether or not you like this feature will probably depend on your preferences.
For existing Firefox users, the upgrade is a no-brainer. Use the Update function in your browser or go to getfirefox.com and grab the new version. For people who are happy with IE9, Chrome, or another browser, I’d recommend at least giving Firefox 4 a try, though you’ll probably find fewer reasons to use the browser full-time.