Firefox 29: worth a look

Tags: Knowledge
There’s yet another reason to switch to Firefox if you’re not already converted — its name is Firefox 29. The latest version of the world’s third most popular browser, released just last week, sports a svelte new look that tucks away a bunch of new improvements.

If you’re already using Firefox, it should either update itself or notify you of an available update. Otherwise, go to the Firefox menu and click on About Firefox and the browser should check for updates. Otherwise, go to Mozilla.org/Firefox and download yourself a brand new copy.

The first thing Firefox veterans will notice is the new design. In fact, it looks quite Google Chrome-like, a result of the implementation of a new interface codenamed Australis that makes Firefox more customisable and intuitive to use. To begin with, that old blocky tab bar is gone and you now have a sleek rounded tab top. Only the active tab is thus highlighted and background tabs fade into the grey background.

Next, Windows users will notice that the orange Firefox menu is gone. In fact, the menu function has been moved to the right of the address bar into what some people are calling the ‘hamburger’ icon — a three-bar icon that drops down menu items à la Chrome. Unlike Chrome, the menu items are arranged not as a list, but as a neat grid of icons. But wait, that’s not all.

Customisation appears to be the buzzword in this new Firefox. You can drag and drop items into the menu area. Thus, you can have features that you frequently access close at hand and hide away everything that isn’t needed. Click on the ‘Customize’ button to start arranging your menu. You can drag (and remove) items to (and from) not just the menu, but also the toolbar next to the address bar. For instance, don’t use the search area? Remove it. Want the new private window button right next to your address bar? Drag it there. The revamped menu is also compatible with a number of add-ons, so you can have your favourite add-ons just one click away.

The other major change in Firefox 29 is that they have finally overhauled Firefox Sync to work with a simple username/password Firefox account rather than the messy twelve-character code that was needed earlier. This lets you back up your bookmarks, add-ons, settings, tabs and history to the Mozilla cloud and sync it with another instance of Firefox on a different device. Firefox accounts for Android is in the works, which means syncing will be available on Android-based tablets and smartphones too.

Apart from these obvious and functional changes, Firefox 29 has plenty of under-the-hood improvements as well, making it faster and safer. Sophos.com’s Naked Security blog recommends making the change “sooner rather than later”.

From the usability point of view, Mozilla’s developers appear to have made all their tweaks and adjustments without throwing a radically changed interface to old users. So a lot of what you did earlier is exactly the same — Firefox looks a lot cooler, but feels like it’s same old comfortable self.

For the uninitiated, Mozilla Firefox is an open source web browser available for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, plus a mobile version for Android. The fanciest trick in Firefox’s bag is the availability of thousands of extensions and themes to customise it exactly how you want. If you’re looking to switch browsers or just want to try something new, you could do much, much worse than give Firefox a run. Even if you’re happy with your current browser, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look. zz

(The writer is a tech

and fantasy author)

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