Hot on the heels of the recent debut of Firefox 6, the Mozilla development team is in the midst of a rapid release schedule. Among the improvements promised in versions 7 to 9, here's a countdown of the ones that we think are most important.
The Mozilla development team released Firefox 6 on Aug. 11, then announced a rapid release schedule that led to the release of Version 7.0 last week, with Versions 8 and 9 coming soon. That's a lot of upgrades, but here's a countdown of the improvements that we think are the most important.
Slideshow: First look: Firefox 7 slashes memory usage
9. Better instant syncing
For a while now, Firefox has had the ability to sync your bookmarks and user passwords across multiple computers and devices on which you run the browser. But the service hasn't been a reliably seamless experience (it doesn't feel as "instant" as it should, the Firefox developers acknowledge). Then they introduced a fix in 7.0.
8. Clean up user profile
If your Firefox installation becomes hopelessly corrupted (we've seen this happen in 5.0 where malicious add-ons and mysterious code have hijacked the browser's default search engine, replacing it with a scammy affiliate-linked one), then this feature would allow you to reset your browser to a daisy-fresh state, but with your bookmarks, browsing history, passwords, and other personal info preserved. Clean up user profile is being discussed by the developers for 9.0.
7. Better download manager
You can install one of many add-ons that give you more control and stats over your downloads, yet the default download manager of Firefox hasn't changed much through the many iterations of the browser. Version 9.0 is when a new download manager should show up that will provide the kind of features you get from a third-party add-on. At the very least, we think Firefox should show the status and progress of your downloads in a tab -- like the way it works in Google Chrome -- and not in a pop-up window like the way it works now.
6. More unified looking UI
Related to our thoughts about the download manager, Firefox needs a more consistent looking and working UI, where the bookmark manager and all the various browser settings are also set within separate tabs. (This is what Chrome has shifted toward.) Firefox's developers may be moving to this kind of unified look, starting with 8.0, which we really look forward to.
5. Compatibility with older add-ons
It's the same story whenever a new version of Firefox is released: the good news is that there's a new version. The bad is that many of your favorite add-ons will probably stop working. So you'll have to wait until the developers of these add-ons update them. In Version 9.0, the Firefox developers could implement code that attempts to grant compatibility, at least temporarily, with your favorite though outdated add-ons.
4. Better add-on confirmation and removal
This has become one of the weakest points about Firefox compared to other browsers like Chrome. Malware developers (and those who may not be necessarily writing malicious code, but who have taken advantage of this) have figured out ways to sneakily install add-ons to Firefox without your full consent. Worse, although you might be able to disable their add-ons, they can prevent you from completely removing them from Firefox (instead, you see them grayed-out in the add-ons manager). As we noted, there's malware known to hijack your Firefox default search engine.
Starting with Version 8.0, the Firefox developers hope to start addressing this flaw so you can see any add-ons and remove them. This is much needed for the sake of both your browser's and computer's security.
3. Slow-down warnings
Here's another matter dealing with troublesome add-ons. Firefox's developers would like to put in a feature that is similar to one in Internet Explorer 9 to better inform you of how much of a performance hit your browser could experience if you install a certain add-on. This is listed in the roadmap to appear in 9.0. Details are scant for now, although we hope Firefox will audit how much memory your installed add-ons are sucking up, showing this information in clear, graphical terms.
2. Animated tab moving and shifting
This is a UI feature that we think is cool and helpful when you are manipulating several tabs. Firefox's developers plan to bring this to 8.0: Click and hold on a tab, and then drag and drop it onto a different place on the tab bar -- and the other tabs will shift their positions appropriately to accommodate. Chrome does this animated effect already, and very elegantly, having had this feature since its first release.
1. Better memory management
This is the Holy grail that appears to have either been neglected (until recently) by Firefox's developers or has stymied them over the years. They launched the MemShrink project to resolve their browser's infamous tendency to devour system memory. How well Firefox betas are using memory tested under MemShrink is reported frequently on the blog of one of the Firefox developers.
Of all the ongoing improvements throughout the next three releases of Firefox, this is the one we really want to see the most come to fruition.
Wen is a freelance technology writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.