Close on the heels of release of Chrome 26, Firefox 20 stable is finally out. This release, unlike the preceding boring releases brings a lot of new features. Here is a quick run down of the new features
Per-Window Private Browsing
Something which was surely missed by a lot of Chrome migrants. Earlier, if you entered Private Browsing all your existing tabs were closed and the browser would enter private browsing. While exiting Private browsing did restore earlier tabs, it was not clearly not as elegant as Chrome at all. Finally, with Firefox 20 you can open a Private browsing session in it’s own window.
Close crashed browser plugins, without closing the browser
This was a major issue when playing flash videos in Firefox as crashes caused by Flash would simply crash the browser, a major pain if you had dozens of tabs opened. Now you can merely close the crashed plugins without closing the browser.
Continuing the trend of overall performance improvements, Firefox 20 enhances page loading, startup time, rendering performance and takes care of some shutdown delays. Interestingly, Firefox now loads the StyleSheets and the scripts before Images, resulting in faster page loading times than earlier.
Revamped Downloads Window
The robust Download window has been given a much needed overhaul. The new Download window is actually clubbed under the ‘Library’ , which was earlier the Bookmark Manager. Opening Downloads in Firefox simply opens the Downloads section of the Library.
You can just glance the time remaining for downloads by looking at the Download arrow on the awesomebar. Clicking on the Downloads button on the awesomebar shows the recent downloads. To pause the downloads, you must right click on the download and select pause.
H264 Support : Finally Mozilla takes a Stand
Firefox had taken a tough stand to not support H264 codec in HTML5 videos. Finally, making a compromise, Firefox is now using h.264 codecs included in Windows Vista and above (Windows Media Foundation Codecs) to support HTML5 h.264 videos. Unfortunately, the support is unavailable for Mac and Linux Firefox users at the moment and the work is still in progress.
This is a major step forward as now all the major web browsers, Internet Explorer 9/10, Chrome and Firefox now fully support H264 HTML5 videos and will definitely hasten the slow death of Flash.
The support for h.264 HTML5 videos is disabled by default. To enable it, set media.windows-media-foundation.enabled to true in about:config
Search Engine Reset
Firefox 20 ships a cool feature (intended to land in Firefox 19) that detects a change in the default search provider and offers to reset to the default search engine. This is extremely handy when the default search provider is tampered by the installation of third party programs or toolbars.
- Firefox has now implemented playback rate control for HTML5 videos, although the controls for the same in the GUI are yet to be implemented
- Firefox 20 now has support for web access to the user’s camera and microphone with user permission.
- Developer related changes in Firefox 20 can be seen in this post
This time around we saw a noticeable drop in Firefox’s competitiveness to Chrome in terms of raw benchmarks.
Google Octane was a different story with Chrome 26 taking a hit compared to Chrome 24. Firefox 20 on the other hand shows a very good improvement compared to its predecessors.
In Mozilla’s Kraken benchmark suite we have always witnessed the stiff competition between Chrome and Firefox. While the last time, Firefox won the battle, this time around Chrome 26 had a clear edge over Firefox 20.
Firefox had a disappointing run in this browser intensive benchmark, while Chrome bested it’s own previous record. Heck even Internet Explorer 10 for once, performed better in this benchmark. It is quite surprising to see this decline, because we expected the enabling of h264 support would increase the score.
Last time around, many of our readers pointed out the anomalies in our memory benchmarks. Hence this time, we have made a few adjustments. Firstly, we have included a 10 minute idle time after loading all the sites in the respective browsers, for the memory consumption to stabilize. Secondly, we have thrown all our previous figures down the drain.
Quite a surprise, Internet Explorer 10 actually was the most memory efficient browser, followed by Mozilla Firefox 20. Chrome was the last, but not by a great margin.
For this test, we had just opened a single Facebook tab and let the browser idle for 5 minutes.
Here Internet Explorer 10 and Firefox 20 were pretty neck to neck, with the former edging out Firefox by around 50 MB. Chrome came a distant third, but it has shown considerable improvement over the past releases in memory consumption.
Internet Explorer on Windows 8 is a really efficient browser in terms of memory management, while Firefox continues it’s dominance in this area. Chrome too, has improved a lot over the past releases, especially when we compare the times when it gobbled a around 800 – 900 MB memory easily for displaying 10 tabs.
Summing it up
While the dip in the performance is quite forgivable due to the extra load of features packed in this release and we expect future releases of Firefox to tighten. When compared to the competition however Firefox, has finally come of age with some significant enhancements and much needed features that were missing when compared to the competition. Be it, H264 support, revamping an already decent download manager or per window private browsing , this is one Firefox release that you must update to (or download :/ ) now.
Download: Firefox 20.0 [20.1 MB]