Firefox 8.0 First Impressions

All the features that were hyped from waaay back in the 3.x days have been implemented in 8.0. These include

  • new security features,
  • app tabs and tab groups
  • like Ricky-boy, I forgot the third thing. 😈

Private Browsing

FF8 has a mode called “private browsing.” You explicitly set the mode manually, and you must do so before you have opened any tabs into which you have entered contents.

The question is not so much “what information is private” as “who is it private from,” and the answer is “basically nobody, except other users of the same computer.” Honestly, neither FF8 nor any other browser has a lot of control over what is posted to a web site when you fill in a form, or when the web site drops or requests a cookie; a certain minimum amount of information must be provided to the site just to make the transaction happen. (ADDED: that said, secure connections, those with URLs that begin “https”, really do work.) So don’t expect “private browsing” to conceal your pr0n site visits from your employer, or your basic machine and browser info from any sites that you visit.

Nonetheless, if you are sharing a computer with someone, and (to use Mozilla’s own polite example) don’t want them to see the places you’ve shopped for their birthday present, or if by some miracle you’ve found a public library computer using Firefox, private browsing can be useful.

(Do I use it? No. Stella and I have not only separate computers, but separate DSLs and separate local networks. There is nothing connected between our systems. We even email each other the way people who live in different homes do. That is in part because our separate AT&T accounts were necessary when I used mine mostly for business purposes.)

App Tabs

These are, to me, so far the most useful feature of FF8. Create a tab and run an app (i.e., visit a site) in that tab. Then right-click the tab and select “Pin as App Tab” from the context menu. The big, bulky tab will disappear, replaced by a tiny tab on the left end of the tab bar, containing only a small icon (the favicon, actually) for the app. The next time you start your browser, that app tab will appear, loaded up and ready to go; this will continue to happen until you explicitly right-click and unpin the app tab. I have five pinned app tabs: Google, NWS local weather, and (for this blog) Dashboard, Comments and the blog itself.

A couple of things to remember about app tabs. If you select an app tab and manually navigate somewhere else, that becomes the new meaning of that app tab. (I would rather it didn’t do that, but no one asked me, and I didn’t participate in the spec’ing process.) (CORRECTION: this appears NOT to be how it behaves. If you close the browser with any page that is part of the tab’s named site open (i.e., the part up through “.com” or whatever is the same), that page will be reopened. Attempts to open any other page not part of the app in an app tab will result in a separate tab being opened. On the whole, I like that behavior.) Also note that app tabs do not auto-refresh unless the site behind them auto-refreshes. (This appears to be true even across browser sessions: close a single browser instance, launch another, and the app tabs may very well have the same display contents as the last time you saw them. I don’t know how or why it does this, or whether I’ve simply misinterpreted; I’ll probably be updating this statement.)

Tab Groups

If you have an old computer, starved for mips and RAM, you can skip this section. Tab groups, a wonderful concept, can really slow things down on a machine like mine, and I have gone back and stripped all of them out. But the basic idea is sound.

Most people have a sort of project setup, an assortment of web sites they always open to work on a particular project. Perhaps you have two or three news sites you refer to constantly in preparing a blog post, or a few like-minded people whose blogs you like to visit frequently. Or perhaps you have the same sloppy habits I have, opening a dozen tabs and finding it difficult to locate the ones you really need to work on something. If so, tab groups are for you… with some reservations. Manually open the tabs you want in a group one by one, and follow the instructions in Help to create a tab group. Henceforth, when that tab group is active, all those tabs (and only those tabs) will be opened, in conventional tabs, for you to use as you desire. (The pinned apps are available in any group, or no group at all. However, they are not available in popup windows.)

Now for the reservations. If a tab group is active, there doesn’t seem to be any way to say “select no group at all.” If you open a browser with a tab group active, or activate one explicitly (there’s a button that invokes a tab-group mode of viewing), nothing prevents you from closing individual tabs… but FF8 will dutifully remove those tabs from the active tab group, for good and all. Something similar happens (I’m still exploring what exactly) when you open a new individual tab while you have a tab group active: the tab opens individually, but if you click the tab-groups button, that individual tab sometimes (?!?) becomes part of the group. Again, I’ll probably be revising this paragraph once I understand better.

Conclusion

It could be worse; it could be better. I am not sorry I upgraded to 8.0, if for no other reason than that it is the first self-upgrading version I’ve had, and I’ll be happy to be relieved of that chore. The App Tabs feature makes a lot of sense; I use it constantly. The Tab Groups feature may make more sense all in good time. And depending on your circumstance, the Private Browsing feature may protect your habits from those you share the machine with.

Oh, and the whole thing does in fact run faster… unless the Creepy Feature Creature invades and uses up all your available RAM…

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