Firefox 4: Welcome Improvements & Helpful New Features

In the Mac browser wars, there are many contenders for the crown. But the big three are Chrome, Safari and Firefox. On my desktop, I found myself using Safari and Chrome more often than Firefox because Chrome looks better and I could ditch Flash on Safari easily.

But more importantly, Firefox was slow to load and didn’t offer anything better for me than Chrome or Safari, so why use it?

Now there’s a reason: Firefox 4 is out and it’s packed with new features that make it worth the download. So what are these fancy new bits that kick Firefox up a notch? Let’s take a look after the break.

For Starters

Let’s get this out of the way now. This isn’t going to be a technical review where we discuss how quick Firefox is, and post up benchmark tests of how it works. No, our mission here is to point out some of the cool new features about the browser, and we’ll leave the benchmarking to the other guys. With that out of the way, let’s move on.

The new look for Firefox 4 stands out from the rest.

The new look for Firefox 4 stands out from the rest.

The Big Stuff

The first really big thing that we noticed about Firefox has to do with the tabs, and for that, let’s use an example. Right now I’m writing this review in Firefox, in our fancy blogging web app. I also have a few other tabs open for research purposes and my Gmail account humming away.

Now, were I working in Chrome, I’d be bouncing around tabs and I could accidentally close one or two in the process. Firefox not only stops that from happening, but it does so in a cool way.

App tabs keep your apps locked in place.

App tabs keep your apps locked in place.

It’s called an App Tab, and it’s a way to pin your tabs to the side of the top bar. By pinning certain tabs in place — for my situation, Gmail and our blogging platform — I can’t accidentally hit command-w and close a tab as I do so often.

It also means that they’re always there, even when you close and reopen the program, which is even better if you’re working on a project but want to eliminate memory leaking. For me, this is the No. 1 reason I use Firefox more than I used to.

The preferences tab offers many different customization options.

The preferences tab offers many different customization options.

Grouping Tabs

Let’s travel back to the previous scenario. Say I have another window open entirely, with a whole other set of tabs in place. Maybe I’m researching for Mac.AppStorm in one window, and surfing the web on the other. Now, my problem is that I either have two windows open at one time, or I have one minimized and, of course, I’ll forget about one of them when I close the browser — and that would suck.

Group your tabs for easier navigation.

Group your tabs for easier navigation.

Firefox calls it Panorama, but you can call it tab grouping, if you prefer. This option lets you switch between windows easily by grouping your tabs in one place. Never lose track of a window again, because they’re all easily accessible. Very handy for a web junkie like myself.

Further Customization

A few other highlights stand out. First, there’s Firefox Sync, which lets you sync your bookmarks and tabs from your Mac to Firefox Home on your iPhone.

Setup a sync account to sync your browser on multiple devices.

Setup a sync account to sync your browser on multiple devices.

Then there’s the look of the app itself. Like many browsers, the window is customizable. Remove the navigation bar, switch off the add-on bar at the bottom, or flip around where the tabs sit. Change it up to your preferences, and make it yours.

Change up your browser's looks easily.

Change up your browser's looks easily.

And of course, there’s the veritable cornucopia of add-ons available at Mozilla’s website. There are a few thousand to choose from, so take your pick of extensions for whatever you want.

Add-ons make Firefox infinitely customizable.

Add-ons make Firefox infinitely customizable.

Final Thoughts

I like to break up my browsing duties depending on my tasks. For example, I used to use Chrome for all of my goofing off, because Flash is onboard all the time, and it’s fast. I used Safari for my blogging work, mostly because I added Click to Flash to stop Adobe from slowing down my browsing. Firefox just sat in my Applications folder, unused and neglected.

Now, I’ve switched from Safari to Firefox for all of my work needs. If I had to put my finger on why, it’s all down to the app tabs for me, because that’s improved my productivity ten fold.

I can’t tell you how many tabs I accidentally closed in my fervor to clean up my browser, and yes, I could just reopen them if need be, but it took time. Do that a few dozen times in a day and those precious seconds start to add up.

That said, it’s not perfect. It’s definitely not as slow as Safari, but it’s slower than Chrome for sure. Since it’s so new, many of the add-ons I already had on Firefox don’t work because they haven’t been updated yet. And it’s also crashed on me once or twice, although admittedly, pretty much every browser does that to me on occasion.

I do really dig Firefox 4, and I’ve recommended it to a few friends and colleagues since it was released. But it’s not Chrome, and right now that’s pretty high up on the quality list in my book. Out of the three browsers I use, I’d put it at a solid No. 2 — and with a few updates, it might just move up to No. 1.


The popular web browser gets a fresh update with app tabs, tab groups and more.



Add Yours
  • I realy like firefox 4
    But i remember that i used 3 finger gesture to activate pandora in one of the forefox 4 beta on my MacBook
    Do you know how to get this working agan?

    • Ah, yes. I remember loving the three finger gesture to activate Panorama. After they removed/changed the command, it took me a while to figure out how to get the command working again; it turned out to be very simple, actually.
      Go to about:config on Firefox, then search for browser.gesture.swipe, and it should show two fields, browser.gesture.swipe.down and browser.gesture.swipe.up. Change both those values to “Browser:ToggleTabView” without the quotations, and you’re all set!

  • You should have done a little more research (Chrome has the very same tab feature with pinning.)

    For myself, that is really the only thing that made it stand out compared to the others with all their support for add-ons, extensions, web-apps and so on.

    I find Safari and Firefox crash the most, and Chrome rarely full-on crashes warranting a diagnostic pop-up.

    • I’ve been pinning tabs like that since before Chrome existed, thanks to a Firefox add-on called “Faviconize Tab.”

  • I would like to remind you that Chrome also has the pin tab feature.

  • I got firefox 4 about a year ago when it was still in the early betas (I’m a web developer and designer). At that time it looked like it had fully caught up to chrome in both interface and the rendering of web pages. However, the toolbar in firefox is still much larger than chrome’s, and since I’m used to a huge iMac monitor, but now use a macbook almost exclusively, I like to preserve as much screen real estate as possible. I do like, however, that unlike in chrome’s pin tab feature, you have to convert an app tab back to a regular tab before closing it.

    As far as web page rendering goes, it really didn’t improve since the first beta that I tried as far as feature count goes. Sure they got rid of most of the rendering bugs, but they didn’t add any new html5 features since my first impression of it. The big thing that I miss in it is CSS3 animations (for the non web developers, those are animations that are much smoother than most animations on the web today because they are hardware accelerated by the browser). But again, it does have some benefits. Chrome and safari have scroll lag when there are shadows with a lot of blur, and firefox has no such performance issue.

  • I think the tab growing function is one reason I’ve switched to firefox from chrome. Also, their extensions are more matured and work better (e.g. 1password pro).

    However, I’m surprised you didn’t mention this, but firefox doesn’t yet allow me to pinch to zoom. That’s a big downer. Or is it just me without this feature?

    Also, it doesn’t allow you to right click a word and check the dictionary meaning of it. Aother feature chrome has and firefox doesn’t.

  • I really like Firefox 4 !

  • Ha, lots of these functionalities are almost a year in every Opera browser. It’s a damn pity Opera is so buggy lately!

  • I gotta say that i did like it when i saw the pictures of the release, now im really like it.

    One thing that i dont like is that isnt compatible with delicious…that i have to say that sucks!

  • As others already mentioned, pinning a tab is default in chrome.

    Although I am very loyal to Apple products, I finally moved to Chrome from Safari just because the combined search and address field, which I find extremely time saving. (Explorer 9 is said to have the same, but anyone left to use that browser anymore?)
    Firefox was too buggy, especially if you wanted to get the benefit of several add-ons. I dont think that mozilla monitors all the add-ons like Apple does for apps.

  • So the bottom line is: ‘Firefox 4 works for me because I have this uncontrollable urge to close tabs and lose important data.’

  • The new Firefox 4 is loaded with extra security and other great functions with a nice theme. Firefox is my best web browser, but the sad thing is that many of the plugins that i use for FireFox (FF) is not available at this moment for new version FF 4, but I’m sure it will be available for new version soon. Thanks Kevin Whipps for writing up a great article about my favorite web browser .

  • 1 big problem with chrome. when u digit an address you can’t press tab because you have to press arrow down for autocomplete.. like goo+tab= it’s super uncomfortable to digit goo and then search arrow down with your hand.

  • How did you get your tabs on top in the first two screenshots? I know it was a feature in early betas, but I can’t find the option in 4.0.1.

    • Click View > Tabs on top.

  • I loved Firefox when I was on windows but now that I’ve switched to mac i’ve found Firefox to be unusable. It’s slow, buggy and crashes constantly for me. Every time a new version comes out I get excited and download it and take it for a spin but I always delete it again in frustration. My main browser is now Chrome.

  • When Firefox 4 came out, I was ecstatic—it was fast, and so customizable, and I could really make it my own!
    Alas, my ecstasy was short-lived.
    On my Mac Mini (4GB memory), running OS X 10.6.7, Firefox 4 used to regularly consume 800MB-1.5GB memory and 40-60% CPU (and more!) before I resorted to dastardly means. Okay, tell me that I open too many tabs, that there’s this or that add-on to blame, that I should kill flash (already did, quite mercilessly)… But really, if I have to do all sorts of acrobatics just to use a browser without it sucking my Mac’s memory into some black hole, it kinda takes the ‘f’ out of fun, or out of Firefox, ha.
    I googled the issue, searched help forums, and found more Mac users that suffer from a similar problem: killer memory leak. Some claim it’s the result of opening a lot of tabs while using the Adblock add-on. Some say it’s extraterrestrials. Who knows. Anyway, here’s what (partially) worked for me:
    1. Some users suggested to prevent all tabs from loading automatically by going to about:config and setting the “browser.sessionstore.max_concurrent_tabs” to 0 (if you don’t mind messing with your about:config, that is, which is highly dangerous, and might bring on the Apocalypse). I applied the solution and managed to reduce the memory usage to 500-700 MB. Just to tick me off, it still shoots now and then to over 800 MB.
    2. I use App Tamer to get back my CPU. Thank you St. Clair software.
    3. I got so darn frustrated that I downloaded OmniWeb and started using it instead of Firefox :)
    Google Chrome, you say? Last I checked my Activity Monitor, Google Chrome had so many “worker” processes going (and really, I don’t have that many extensions installed), that I doubt it gobbles less memory than Firefox.
    So. Here’s to OmniWeb.
    And because I sound so terribly ungrateful, I do wish to thank the Mozilla devs for their hard work on Firefox. Darn. I do sound ungrateful, don’t I?

  • I’ve been growing pretty tired of all mentioned web browsers lately. They all consume absolutely ridiculous amounts of CPU, crash (Partially because of flash, but sadly, I can not live without it), the extensions are outdated and cause random crashes all the time (even those featured on Mozilla sites). I don’t remember ever worrying about CPU when just browsing a few websites when I first got my mac. Firefox was absolutely great then. What the hell happened? Did everyone suddenly forget how to develop for mac? Only extension I can not live without is 1password, which only works like expected in Firefox. Playing a video on any site almost deep fries my processor.

    With all the optimalization of OS X, all the apps struggling to take up as little system resources as possible and whatnot I never imagined the reason to consider a more powerful mac would be web browsing. Goddammit even Portal 2 runs absolutely smoothly on my MBP even with all it’s bugs, so why the hell wouldn’t a browser.

    The blame is on web developers as well. I used to develop web applications back when the main focus was on strict separation of XHTML/CSS/Javascript and everything seemed so fast. Nowadays it’s just the opposite. HTML 5 wasn’t a step in a right direction. As wasn’t Adobe buying Macromedia. One day, it will all just collapse and we’ll be back to recording music on tapes and sending in by mail. Who needs these browsers you speak of anyway! :)

  • Eating to much RAM!

  • Yo aun necesito aprender mas sobre este tema para poder seleccionar la opcion mas acorde para mi. Actualmente busco informacion sobre lo que llaman de la “dieta dominguera”.