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10/18/2011
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Firefox 8 Beta: Better Controls For Add-Ons, Tabs

Beta version of Firefox 8 from Mozilla includes new features to better manage Web browser add-ons and handle tabs, as well as under the hood improvements.

Firefox 8 Beta: Visual Tour
Firefox 8 Beta: Visual Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Much has been made lately of Mozilla's decision to move to a rapid six-week upgrade cycle for their flagship Firefox Web browser. But regular users can be forgiven if they've wondered about all the fuss, given that the recent new versions of the browser have featured mostly under the hood changes and no new visible features for users.

But that looks to finally change with Firefox 8, which was recently released in beta. While the new features in version 8 of the browser can hardly be considered major or groundbreaking, at least there are some new noticeable capabilities for users.

One of the main complaints of the rapid upgrade cycle of Firefox is the possibility that new versions of the browser will break add-ons and extensions that users rely on. A welcome new feature in Firefox 8 displays a special add-ons window the first time the browser runs after the upgrade.

This window displays the add-ons currently installed in Firefox and gives the user the option to disable or remove unwanted or unused add-ons. I found this to be a nice touch, and useful not just for removing unused add-ons but as a reminder of just which extensions and add-ons other applications had added to your browser. By default, Firefox now disables all of these third-party add-ons at upgrade and in this window, users can choose which ones they want to re-enable.

One of the more noticeable changes in this new version is the addition of Twitter as an option for the default search engine in the browser's search bar. In tests this worked fine and is nice as another option for integrated search.

Also in this version, Firefox now uses a more visible animated tab action when a user drags and drops tabs to reorder them on the tab bar. This is a feature that Google Chrome has had for a while now and is a case of Firefox catching up with its competitor.

Possibly my favorite new feature in Firefox 8 is the option to set the browser to not immediately load tabs upon startup. This is nice both for users who use a tab group on startup and for recovering from crashes. Now, instead of the browser wasting resources trying to load several websites at once, a tab will only load once it has been selected in the tab bar.

Like most other Firefox upgrades, this version also includes under the hood engine upgrades and improved standards support. Included in this version is support for HTML 5 context menus.

To try out the new beta of Firefox, go to here.

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