by Bill Snyder

Firefox 8 Upgrade: Mostly Ho Hum

Nov 10, 20113 mins

Mozilla keeps cranking out new versions of its browser. Firefox 8 won't knock your socks off, but it has a few new features that make it worth the upgrade.

If you’re not already running a version of Firefox, the open source browser from Mozilla, you probably should be. It’s fast, a lot more stable than it used to be, and offers the best way to handle tabs of any of the three major browsers. That last feature alone makes it very easy to recommend it to users of competing browsers.

But if you’re currently running a recent version of Firefox — and Mozilla cranks them out every few months — there’s no rush to upgrade.  Firefox 8 looks the same, and runs about the same as previous versions. But it does have a few incremental improvements that make it worth the small amount of trouble it takes to upgrade, when you get around to it.

The important new features are:

  • Improved security
  • A better way to handle add-ons
  • Direct Twitter search
  • Improvements to tabs

It’s hardly news to most of us, but it’s important to remember that the browser has become the vehicle of choice for hackers to deliver malware. And that’s why it’s good to see that Mozilla keeps working to make life more difficult for hackers. Firefox 8 fixes six vulnerabilities, including three that are deemed critical, after fixing a total of 8 in version 7. If you’re interested in the geeky details, check out Mozilla’s security advisories.

Add-ons, small programs that can be attached to your browser to add various functions, are a real strength of Firefox. There are thousands. But as I’ve written more than once, ` the rapid Firefox upgrade schedule means that some of those break every time you upgrade. Mozilla is getting better at backwards compatibility, and it adds a helpful feature in Firefox 8. Here’s how they explain it:

“Sometimes you download third-party software and are surprised to discover that an add-on has also installed itself in your browser without asking permission. At Mozilla, we think you should be in control, so we are disabling add-ons installed by third parties without your permission and letting you pick the ones you want to keep.”

The little add-on dashboard that opens right after you perform the upgrade has a list of all of your add-ons and it tells you which ones won’t work until the developer upgrades it.

The one noticeable change in appearance is the addition of Twitter to the pull down search menu. You can now search Twitter with just a click, in much the same way Firefox already offers direct search in Google, Bing, Wikipedia, eBay, Amazon and Yahoo.

If you have many tabs open at once, Firefox can be slow to reopen. But you can now load tabs on demand, making it much faster to restore windows with many tabs. Enable this option in the Firefox Menu, under Options/Preferences, in the General tab.

All in all, not a lot of surprises here. If you are running many add-ons you might think twice about upgrading since some of them are sure to break. But if you’re still running a competitive browser, or don’t care much about add-ons, go ahead and install Firefox 8. (If you’re using the browser at work, make sure you ask your IT department if they will support it before you make the change.)