Firefox 4 Essentials: What You Need To Know Before Making The Switch

Martin Brinkmann
Jan 16, 2011
Updated • Mar 18, 2012

If things go as planned Firefox 4 final could be released to the public in February. Beta 9 has been released just a few days ago which gives a good indication of the final release, especially since it is feature complete.

Firefox 4 users will find that the browser has changed, a lot. Noticeable is that it is now a lot faster thanks to improvements on many core levels of the browser. While that is great and all it is not what users will first notice when they launch the browser after the upgrade or installation.

The Firefox interface has been changed which can cause confusion and even frustration as it is not always possible to undo those changes without third party add-ons or hacks.

What are those elements?

The Firefox header

firefox 4 header

New elements are the Firefox button at the top replacing the menu bar, tabs on top which means that tabs are now over the address bar instead of below and the Panorama icon at the top right of the bar which links to one of the new features of Firefox 4.

A right-click on a blank tab bar space opens a configuration menu with options to make changes to the interface. It is possible to move the tabs below the address bar again.

firefox right-click

It is also possible to enable the old menu bar in the same menu. The customize option can be used to move interface elements to different locations so that the interface can look again like the one in Firefox 3, or complete custom.

firefox 4 modification

Please note that the default Firefox 4 header layout is not showing a page's title anymore in the title bar. Another change becomes obvious when hovering over links in the browser. Link destinations where shown in the status bar in Firefox 2 and 3. This has moved to the Firefox address bar in Firefox 4 which often means that the links are cut off due to space restrictions especially on low resolution monitors and if Firefox is run in a window and not maximized.


The Panorama button leads to a new page that displays tabs and groups. Firefox 4 comes with an option to create tab groups. Only one tab group can be visible at a time in each window which can be interesting for users who work on different projects at once and users who want better tab organization. Then again, it can lead to confusion if the feature is triggered accidentally (see Please Mozilla, Let Me Disable Firefox Panorama).

Firefox 4 Footer

The status bar has been removed in Firefox 4. Its replacement, the add-on bar, is disabled by default and it does not appear to be activated automatically even if add-ons make use of the space to display icons or information.

The very same menu that is used to move the tabs or enable the old menu bar can also be used to enable the new add-on bar. The add-on bar basically replaces the status bar in Firefox 4. There are however a few differences that require explanation.

The add-on bar only displays the add-on icons and information. It does not display link information nor the loading or download status. That's all gone. The developers furthermore thought it to be a good idea to place a close button on the leftmost side of the bar. This is inconsistent for a number of reasons. First, it is the only toolbar with a close button. Every other toolbar can be enabled or disabled from the View > Toolbars menu or the right-click in the Firefox header area.

When the x is used to close, the only option to enable the add-on bar again is to use the view menu or the right-click. There is basically no reason to display the close button on that toolbar, especially since it is enabled only on user request.

The majority of changes can be reverted with add-ons or hacks. Take a look at Firefox 4, How To Undo The Changes and How To Remove The Close Button In The Firefox 4 Add-On Bar.

Firefox Add-Ons

The majority of add-ons is currently not compatible with Firefox 4. History has shown that this changes soon after the final version of the browser has been released.

While the majority of add-ons is not compatible yet by default, they can be forced to be compatible so that it is possible to install, enable and use them normally in Firefox 4.

Cautious users can look at Check Firefox Add-On Compatibility Before Upgrading to test their add-ons before they upgrade to Firefox 4. Another helpful guide is Three Methods To Force Add-On Compatibility In Firefox which explains how to force compatibility in the Internet browser.

Got additional tips or information that users need to know before switching to Firefox 4? Let us know in the comments.


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  1. sametime said on January 26, 2011 at 12:31 am

    i think alot of you complain way to much about little things that don’t matter ..

    oh no the status bar is gone , where am i going to read “Done” now!? .. since high speed internet the information in the status bar is useless, if the page hasn’t loaded and you need to look at the bar your internet sucks. i turned off the status bar a long time ago so this is an easy switch.

    the new menu , orange firefox button can be easily switched back to the 90’s style file edit tools help etc with 2 clicks , oh noes kill the devs!1!11

    4 is fast , loads fast , runs fast and looks good .. long live FF!!

  2. Nicolai said on January 18, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Why can’t they just keep the currently GUI? I have a theme addon which make FF just as simple as Chrome, but still as powerfull as FF always has been. With the new GUI, my theme doesn’t work anymore, and I really hate the look. And what about functionality? It takes more click and time to do stuff (because the new “menu” suck).

    I’m really disappointed by the FF team! But I’m still going to swift to FF4 (only because it so much faster, but everything else sux).

  3. Crodol said on January 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    I used FF4 for a while in autumn and I quite liked it. Main reasons I switched back to 3.6:

    [x] add-on compatibility but the main reason:

  4. lawson said on January 17, 2011 at 4:03 am

    I’m just not seeing anything that impresses me in FF4.
    I will be sticking with FF 3.6 for quite a while I think.
    I wonder if 4 really is faster and if it uses less resources. Now that
    would impress me.

  5. Richard Steven Hack said on January 17, 2011 at 1:37 am

    So, as usual, the main “benefit” of the new Firefox is – they removed information that the user wanted from the interface and added elements no one asked for.

    Typical of most re-writes of OSS software these days. I upgraded my openSUSE 11.0 to 11.3 and KDE from 3.5.6 to 4.4 – and guess what? Half the programs like Gwenview that I used to use now have serious defects and removed user information in the interface that make them almost unusable without a lot of messing around.

    Programmers need to STOP designing programs because they can’t do it competently! DESIGNERS with some competence in user interface design need to design programs, NOT programmers!

  6. Nebulus said on January 16, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    All the “improvements” in Firefox 4 convinced me NOT to switch. Opera works just fine, and it lets me customize it the way I like it, and Firefox 3.6 acts as a secondary browser just fine :)

  7. Jason said on January 16, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    I cannot upgrade to 4.0 until Greasemonkey is made compatible…

    1. SomeGuy said on January 16, 2011 at 10:49 pm
  8. Dotan Cohen said on January 16, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks for all the Firefox tips, Martin!

  9. Threshold said on January 16, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    All right I have tried to follow your tips to update to 4.0 beta 9 but nothing is working and I cannot undo my changes :(

    I installed Firefox 4.0 beta9

    I have installed the Nigltly Tester but in the incompatible extensions I only have the uninstall button and even the right click menu offers no option.
    I cannot even access the NTT options since the button is not present or anyway i cannot find it.

    I have tried editing the config in which I only had
    extensions.checkCompatibility.3.6b (weird)

    So I created:
    extensions.checkCompatibility.4.0.9b (is this the correct sintax btw?).

    I set both to true.

    After restarting Ffox extensions.checkCompatibility.3.6b disappeared but I still cannot make incompatible extensions work and cannot even remove my entries anymore.

    All I have achieved is that Firefox is going crazy eating memory (1400 MB!)

    Any help please?


    1. Martin said on January 16, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      The correct compatibility setting is extensions.checkCompatibility.4.0b or for the final version extensions.checkCompatibility.4.0

      1. Threshold said on January 16, 2011 at 8:38 pm

        Wow what a fast reply I was actually going to go back to 3.6 :D

        Anyway Martin I got it wrong and created stings instead of booleans:how do I remove them now?

        Also do I need to create an “extensions.checkCompatibility” (no version number) boolean too?
        In the picture in the other post you have both of them.

        Re NTT how do you use that extension to override compatibility?

        Many thanks :)

      2. Martin said on January 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm

        You can only remove them in the Firefox config file in your profile folder (when firefox is closed). The file is prefs.js in the root directory. You can edit it with a text editor. Make sure you delete the complete line and close the gap afterwards. You only need the parameter with the version number.

        I only use this method and not the Nightly Tester Tools. Have not tried them for a long time.

  10. Yoav said on January 16, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Thanks for summarizing the important changes. It actually doesn’t look half bad. I’ll give it a try for sure.

  11. Bob said on January 16, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    I hope Firefox 4 smashes Chrome and IE

    1. Girish Mony said on January 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm

      Smashing Chrome is not that easy for Firefox, because Google innovates more things in Chrome we haven’t even dreamed of!!!!!!!!

  12. Girish Mony said on January 16, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Firefox add on compatibility issue is the main thing, will affect many people. Because many people like me heavily depends upon add on and add on compatibility will be an issue!!!

    Also I like to know why there is white shade in your screenshots?

    1. Martin said on January 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm

      I have cut out the middle of the screenshot so that the important elements would show more clearly.

      1. Girish Mony said on January 16, 2011 at 7:01 pm

        Great!! I like this idea. I should try this. Thanks for the reply!!!

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