Firefox.next Alpha 4 is both: performance and looks

Mozilla has released another alpha of the next Firefox (either 3.7 as the nightlies name suggest, or 4.0 like most people expect), conservatively labeled Mozilla Developer Preview.

On Windows at least, besides the new toolbar icons introduced in Alpha 3, there is now an option to place the tab bar above the navigation bar (right-click on a toolbar), which combined with the option to hide the menu bar (introduced in Firefox 3.6), brings Firefox UI closer to the planned Firefox 4.0 theme update. Aero Glass for the toolbars was available for a while in the nightlies (and looked great) then pulled back, but it should be ready for the next alpha or beta.

Awesome bar suggestions that are already open in a tab, are identified with a tab icon. I wish matching pages in current tabs were listed at the top, so it could be used as an easy way to search among tabs, but it’s not the case right now.


A nice addition is text area resize. With it, you get a resize handler for most text areas you will see on the web, so you can set it the right size for you. It needs polishing however. For example, if you try to resize the Facebook status update text area, the resize handler follows the mouse cursor when in reality, you can’t change the text area’s width. So you end with the resize handler in the middle of the text area.

There are also very important enhancements in the performance area. Thanks to the inclusion of Direct2D, Microsoft’s hardware accelerated 2D rendering API, and DirectWrite, its new text-layout and glyph-rendering API.

The benefits of the new APIs are better understood on this short video of a recent nightly running a graphics stress tool, compared with Chrome 4, Safari 4, Opera 10.5, and a nightly with Direct2D off.

Note that Direct2D and DirectWrite are available for Windows 7 and Windows 2008 Server R2. Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 users will need to apply the Platform Update.

Also, Direct2D is disabled by default, as it is not stable enough yet. To turn it on, access the advanced preferences via about:config, and set gfx.font_rendering.directwrite.enabled to true, and mozilla.widget.render-mode to 6. The latter uses Direct2D for Firefox user interface as well. If you noticed the jagged Back button in the first screenshot in this post it is because of this (still buggy) setting.

Out of process plugins which debuted in public earlier this week in Firefox Lorentz beta, goes a step further here, allowing to run the  Flash Player plugin on its own process on Mac OS X, with some hard restrictions: only Flash 10.1 RC  on Mac OS X 10.6.

Due to a lot of optimization, exiting Firefox is now lightning fast (97% faster), so you won’t have to think twice to perform restart Firefox for an update or a new extension.

Mozilla Developer Preview Alpha 4 release notes, including download links.

9 Comments

  1. Ken Saunders April 12, 2010 9:55 pm 

    Nice write up. Thanks.

    I hate tabs on top. Why put the most frequently accessed part of the UI the furthest away? Although, bookmarks are the most accessed aren’t they? In any event, unless you browse with the keyboard alone, tabs on top is just dumb.

    Well, if you really like your Firefox watered down and hide the menu bar also, and will like that the bookmarks toolbar will be hidden soon too, then I guess tabs on top works.

    Firefox is my control center for the Internet. I don’t want to have to click on menu to submenus to get to things like bookmarks. That’s some of what I can’t stand about Chrome.

    As long as I’ll always be able to customize and hack Firefox to my needs and liking, I’ll be happy.

    • Ferdinand April 13, 2010 2:13 am 

      [q]Why put the most frequently accessed part of the UI the furthest away?[/q]
      If the tabs go really on top of the screen and not below the titlebar it would become the closest UI.
      [q]if you really like your Firefox watered down and hide the menu bar[/q]
      in firefox you only need the menu 3 times per day at most.
      [q]that the bookmarks toolbar will be hidden soon too[/q]
      you could always disable it. It is just that it will be default in the future.

      You should try starting bookmarks from the awesomebar. You can just type n and you get the newyork times if that is your favorite.
      You could also make a bookmark page in netvibes.com or iGoogle so you can place hundreds of favorites on 1 page that don’t use screen space.

    • pjdkrunkt April 20, 2010 3:30 pm 

      Tabs on top will only be optional in the next version. It is very very easy to change the position by right-clicking on the toolbar and selecting it.

  2. Ruslan_Y April 13, 2010 2:06 am 

    After installing 3.7pre all the extension’s buttons from default toolbar have been disappeared. And I cannot bring it back because they are not in “customize” list (it’s only firefox’s default buttons).

    P.S. I’ve used existing profile from 3.6. So this may be the reason of this bug. If I have a time I’ll try to check with the clean profile.

    • pjdkrunkt April 20, 2010 3:27 pm 

      The pre-release versions of Firefox are NOT recommended for everyday use. And this version especially because there are so many changes in the UI that extensions and themes should not be expected to work.

  3. gxg April 13, 2010 4:21 am 

    “Due to a lot of optimization, exiting Firefox is now lightning fast (97% faster), so you won’t have to think twice to perform restart Firefox for an update or a new extension.”
    Funny! With Chrome you don’t have to restart anything to install extensions :)
    Crazy, huh?
    P.S. This phrase doesn’t appear on your blog anymore, did you delete it?

    • Reimer April 13, 2010 8:05 am 

      and that’s a reason why Chromes extensions aren’t as good as Firefoxs. Look at Jetpack. It’s the same thing. No-restart extensions but the extensions are much more limited in capability.

      There’s a reason why you still haven’t seen a Downthemall or Adblock Plus equivalent for Chrome yet.

  4. April 13, 2010 10:25 am 

    I wish matching pages in current tabs were listed at the top, so it could be used as an easy way to search among tabs, but it’s not the case right now.

    Add a percentage sign (%) to the start of your query, followed by a space.

    You could also change browser.urlbar.restrict.openpage in about:config to whatever you desire.

  5. David Naylor April 13, 2010 4:04 pm 

    Thanks for the article Percy, great to read about the progress being made. I hadn’t really registered these alphas mentally, since they were so anonymously labeled.

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