Firefox 4: 3 Ways It Beats IE and Chrome Browsers

The browser wars are back with a vengeance, which means your choices keep on coming: Firefox 4 hits this week. CIO.com's Bill Snyder breaks down several features that will wow you.

There's a new version of the Firefox browser coming out this week, and it's so good you may want to adopt it instead of either Microsoft's IE or Google's Chrome. Indeed, I've already made the switch using an almost complete version of Firefox 4; the finished product will be ready to download on Tuesday, March 22.

10 Things to Drool Over in Firefox 4

Having said that, the three major browsers these days are all very good and it's a certain amount of trouble to switch; you've got to move your bookmarks and get used to a somewhat different environment. So when I say I'm moving back to Firefox, it's no slam against Chrome. (Microsoft's new IE 9 is getting good reviews, but I haven't had a chance to try it out.)

The main reason I like Firefox 4 so much is a feature called Panorama. Essentially it's a way of visually grouping tabs as if they are running in a separate instance of the browser, a real asset for inveterate multitaskers. In fact, a number of Firefox 4's tab-related features work much better than Chrome's. That may seem like a small point, but for me at least, tabs are a reflection of what I'm doing on the Web at any give time. I don't want them to get in my way.

Firefox 4 has a different look than earlier versions and it's somewhat cleaner, though unlike Google and other browsers it still maintains separate bars for navigation and search. Some elements have moved around to give Firefox a more svelte look, but it's still not as minimalist as Chrome — though I'd say thats altogether a matter of taste.

1. Panoroma

Say I'm working on a project about health care and have six or seven sites open that I'm using as references. At the same time, I like to have my Google calendar and contacts showing and maybe a news page. I'm also looking at material for a column on iPhone apps and that's another four tabs. Now I've got 14 or so tabs crowding the top of my screen and because the tabs are squeezed, it's hard to tell which is which. Very annoying.

Of course, I could stop and bookmark some of those pages, but if I'm really multitasking I like to have everything at my fingertips. I could also open another instance of the browser, but that takes time and eats up system resources such as memory.

With Panorama you click a small icon in the upper right hand corner that says "list all tabs" as you roll over it. When you enter the Tab Groups view for the first time, you'll see thumbnail previews of all of your tabs. To make a group, simply drag one tab out of the group and then drag a second one on top of it and so on. Firefox then draws a box around them. Then do another group. Like any other windows, they can be moved around and sized. You can also give them a name, say health care, iPhones and Info.

When you click on one of the boxes, you go back to your ordinary browser page, but only the tabs in the group you've selected are showing. Want to switch back? Simply click on the icon, and select the group you want to see and voila, you're working with it.

Another helpful tab feature allows you to search for a tab. In the tab view simply start typing the name of the tab and Firefox will find it for you and highlight it.

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