The code jockeys at Mozilla had a surprise for users this week — though it may not have been on purpose. A new version of Firefox — 13 — is out and about on the Web, at least a day earlier than scheduled.
As near as I can tell, the release was actually an unintentional leak. But no matter. It’s here, and I’m happy to say it’s the first release of the browser in a while that has enough new features to make it worth your time to download and start using.
There are three things in this release you ought to know about:
The new start page, which has a bunch of useful gadgets on it.
The “load tabs on demand feature” that will save you from a crash if you’re one of those folks that leaves scads of tabs open.
The new tabs page, which looks a lot like the one in Chrome, but is still a worthwhile change.
In addition, I’ve noticed that Firefox, which had been notoriously crash prone in the past, has been getting more stable. For instance, it used to be that when I closed Firefox for some reason while Mozilla’s Thunderbird email client was running, Firefox wouldn’t open again unless I went into the Windows control panel and stopped the process manually, or rebooted the whole machine. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case.
Now, on to the new stuff.
The default start page is actually useful now. When you open it (see the image below) you’ll notice a group of icons below the search bar. The links are simply shortcuts to important features of the browser. Sure, you could find those features before without too much trouble, but it’s handy to have them all in one place. You’ll also notice an icon labeled “restore previous session.” If you don’t click on it, you’ll be starting a session with no tabs open; if you do, you’ll go back to the previous session and all of those tabs will be there.
And that leads me to the “load tabs on demand” feature. Normally, when you restore a session in most browsers, all of the tabs need to reload. If you’ve got a bunch that were open, it can take forever to finish, and you may well crash. If you check this feature on the “options” tab, which is nested under “tools,” the tabs will still be there along the top of the page, but they won’t load until you select a tab to view.
The redesigned “tabs” page is rather similar to that feature in Google’s Chrome browser. When you open a new tab, you’ll see thumbnails of pages you visit frequently. In the past, this was a blank page. Simply click on the thumbnail and that page will reopen. If for the sake of privacy you don’t want that tab to appear, simply delete it from the page.
The official version of Firefox 13 will be available some time on Tuesday. Just search on “download Firefox 13” to find the link. I’ll add a link to this post as soon as Mozilla makes it public.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.