10 Firefox Features You Should Know About

A raft of new features have either been added to Mozilla's browser or are on the way. Here are the most noteworthy.

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A raft of new features have either been added to Mozilla’s browser or are on the way (showing up in the Beta, Aurora and Nightly builds). Here are the most noteworthy.

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Private Browsing

This mode lets you browse in a private session where the cookies, history and other things tied to your browsing activity are purged after you close the program. From the browser, you launch a new, separate browser window in private mode, and it will run simultaneously along with the normal one (which you can close, but continue to use the private-session mode).

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Third-Party Cookies Blocked

A future version of Firefox is planned to specifically block third-party cookies by default. The scheme will permit cookies originating from sites that you regularly visit, but prevent those from installing that come from other sources (like an advertising company) you don’t directly visit. A similar version of such a privacy protection is already built into Safari, while Chome allows all cookies and Internet Explorer blocks some third-party ones.

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Click To Play Plugins

Mozilla applied their Click to Play security system to all third-party plugins, except to whichever is the latest version of Flash at the time. So by default every plugin embedded in a web page is now blocked with a notice, and you need to click this notice to activate the plugin. Click to Play also advises you to update the plugin in question to its latest version. If you trust a particular website, you can whitelist it so that Firefox automatically loads any plugins on it whenever you visit.

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Plugin Warnings

Speaking of plugins, if one freezes up for more than 11 seconds, the latest Firefox will notify you and let you restart the plugin -- and do so without needing to reload the browser.

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Faster JavaScript Processing

Firefox now uses a JavaScript engine named IonMonkey that’s faster than its predecessor. Indeed, when used to interact with certain JavaScript-heavy sites, like Facebook, the latest version of the browser has a noticeable improvement in speed over last year’s releases.

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Download Manager Toolbar

There will soon be some enhancements to the way Firefox handles downloads. To the right of the search box, there will be a toolbar icon of a downward arrow that will show the time remaining for a file as it is being downloaded. Click this icon, and a small status window will pop open below it, showing a progress bar for the download. These little touches won’t be enough to replace the more sophisticated third-party download managers available for Firefox as extensions, but they should be sufficient if you don’t do much file downloading through the browser.

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Built-In PDF Viewer

Chrome and Safari have had this convenient function for a while, and now Firefox, too, as of its final Version 19 release. Click a link to a PDF file, and the browser will load and display the document in a tab, rendering it via the wonders of HTML5 and JavaScript. You can also use Firefox to load and view PDFs already saved on your computer’s local storage medium.

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Retina Display Support

The OS X version of Firefox supports the high-resolution, pixel-dense screen of the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. So the GUI and text of Firefox running on OS X 10.7 or greater do not appear tiny on these Apple notebooks, and look sharper.

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UI Improvements to Firefox for Android

With regard to Android, the Mozilla team has been adding noticeable improvements to the mobile version of Firefox Beta and Nightly. It now has a private browsing mode, although, if you have normal and private sessions open, they both run under one instance of the browser. Other enhancements concern the placement of the tabs tray: it will automatically reposition itself horizontally if you hold your phone in landscape mode, and vertically if you hold your device in portrait mode. But its positioning is opposite when the browser is used on a tablet (i.e. vertical when held in landscape mode, etc.).

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Firefox for Windows 8 Modern

Mozilla is developing a variant of Firefox for the Windows 8 Modern UI. As of this writing, it comes with the Firefox Nightly for Windows build, and is activated when you set it as the default browser for your Windows 8 system. So far, Metro Firefox is a very basic browser with a minimal feature set. It sports a mobile-centric UI, which is essentially identical to that of the Android version of Firefox. Its present incarnation doesn’t offer a browsing experience that is faster, or otherwise better than Internet Explorer 10. But Firefox is, for now, the only alternative web browser designed to adhere to the Modern UI guidelines.