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FireFox 4 Lets Fly With New Speed, Privacy Features

By Mike Martin
Mar 22, 2011 2:37 PM PT

Its logo depicting a wily flame-colored fox encircling the globe suggests that nonprofit Mozilla aims to set the world on fire with every new version of its free, open source Web browser Firefox, released in its fourth incarnation Tuesday.

FireFox 4 Lets Fly With New Speed, Privacy Features

Available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android and Maemo, Firefox 4 boasts speed and performance advancements, enhancements to the JavaScript engine and a new look that supports HTML5, Mozilla representatives posted on the company blog.

The newest version also incorporates new privacy safeguards, including a controversial Do Not Track feature IntelliProtect CEO Doug Wolfgram called "an attempt to gain share in the browser wars. If a person feels more safe with a particular browser, they will use it."

The browser wars have attracted much attention of late, with version after version of various Web browsers hitting the market amidst varying levels of fanfare. All the new features are designed to keep up with the Joneses -- and the Googles.

"Chrome has been gaining share every month for the last couple of years," Mandeep Khera, CMO of Web security firm Cenzic, told LinuxInsider.

Apps and 'Atts'

Firefox 4 boasts a number of new or upgraded features, from App Tabs that give frequently visited sites a permanent home, to Panorama, a drag-and-drop feature for multi-site navigation.

In the browser wars, however, apps may be less important than "atts," or attributes such as security, privacy, and ease of use.

"Firefox 4 delivers a completely customizable Web experience and unparallelled security and privacy," Johnathan Nightingale, director of Firefox engineering, told LinuxInsider. "Features like Firefox Sync -- the ability to synchronize all your browsing history, bookmarks, passwords and open tabs between computers and even to Android phones -- makes it hard to beat."

To consumers, however, speed may be the most important browser attribute of all.

Firefox is up to six times faster than the previous release, according to the Mozilla blog claims. It comes loaded with improved start-up and page load times, speedy Web app performance and hardware accelerated graphics.

Rich, interactive websites, however, pose some of the Internet's more insidious security threats, one of which -- so-called "man in the middle" attacks -- Firefox 4 repels with HTTP Strict Transport Security. The system establishes secure connections to stop and keep sensitive data safe from interception, the Mozilla blog explains.

Finally, chief among Firefox 4's new security features is a way for users to opt out of tracking via the browser-embedded cookies advertisers use to gather data about consumer behavior.

Don't Track Me, Bro!

Firefox is leading the Web toward a universal standard Do Not Track feature, so claims Mozilla. Bragging rights on a universal Do Not Track standard, however, are still undecided and may remain that way for some time to come.

"The biggest obstacle any browser vendor faces is getting the industry to adopt their particular standard," IntelliProtect's Wolfgram told LinuxInsider. "It would be better if a standard solution were proposed by the FTC and all browsers implemented it. For IE9 and Mozilla to implement their own methodologies almost ensures adoption will be scarce."

Despite that dour prognosis, browser makers remain nearly obsessed with privacy and security features. Challenging hackers earlier this year to break into Chrome, Google sought to show that "Chrome is the most secure browser out there and to get more users switch to it," said Cenzic's Khera.

Perhaps tellingly, Apple's Safari browser doesn't seem as security-obsessed. That may be because Apple users have proven hard to track, crack, and hack, which may make for a case of Apple envy among the Cupertino company's Windows-based competitors.

"I can't blame browser manufacturers for the focus on security. It has worked for Apple," said IntelliProtect's Wolfgram. "All these years, viruses that attack Windows machines leave Apple alone. The same thing applies to browsers."


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