Mozilla's Firefox 4 joins the battle of new Web browsers

Consumer Reports News: March 22, 2011 12:56 PM

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The browser wars may be starting up again: Following last week's release of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9, Mozilla is releasing today the latest version of its popular Firefox browser for both computers and smart phones.

Like IE9, the new Firefox will offer enhanced personal privacy through "Do Not Track," a feature that allows Web surfers to turn off the "tracking cookies" that most Web sites use for online advertising and other purposes. (For more details about cookies and protecting your privacy while surfing the Web, see Consumer Reports Guide to Online Security.)

Some of the other major improvements in the Firefox 4 include a cleaner, tab-based display of multiple Web pages; HTML 5 support, which allows websites to incorporate PC-like functionality such as drag-and-drop; and the ability to synch browsing data--bookmarks, passwords, and settings--across different devices. The last feature might be especially attractive for consumers who often switch between browsing the Web on computers and on smart phones. (Reports say that a yet-to-be-released version of Firefox 4 Mobile will also work on tablet computers running Google Android.)

While Firefox's latest enhancements seem to mirror those of IE9, there is one important distinction: Firefox 4 will work on computers running the older Microsoft Windows XP operating system. Said Jay Sullivan, Mozilla's vice president of products, to the San Jose Mercury Times: "We're looking out for real users. A lot of them are on XP, and we're taking care of them."

Although Mozilla Firefox 4 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 are currently on top of most consumers' minds now, other browser news is stirring the waters as well. Some are reporting on new developments in Google's Chrome Web browser, which may do away with the familiar "http" Web address bar and offer smartphone-like apps.

Opera Software also announced new versions of its eponymous Web browsing software--Opera Mini 6 and Opera Mobile 11--for smart phones. The Opera Mini line of software is designed to work with Opera servers, cutting standard Web pages to about one-tenth their original size. The company says this allows even feature phones that use the older J2ME software for wireless data to surf the Web. Opera Mobile, however, brings full Web sites to smart phones using Android or Symbian software. The company also offers standalone browsers for computers running Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux operating systems.

Are you a Firefox fan and excited about Mozilla's new browser? Or are you sticking with Internet Explorer? Or maybe you're thinking about the switch to Google Chrome or Opera or some other browser? Weigh in below.

--Paul Eng

Mozilla Launches Firefox 4 and Delivers a Fast, Sleek and Customizable Browsing Experience to More Than 400 Million Users Worldwide [Mozilla Blog]
Browser wars: Mozilla's Firefox challenges Microsoft's IE, Google's Chrome [Mercury News]
The 10 Best Features in Firefox 4 [Business Insider]
Chrome Will Get Smartphone App Screens [Motley Fool via MSBNC]
Debuting all new Opera Mini 6 and Opera Mobile 11 [Opera]

Paul Eng

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