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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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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