Even though most Firefox users haven’t upgraded to version 4 yet, details of version 5 were uncovered by tech site ConceivablyTech. And even though the next version comes so soon (a la Chrome’s version updated schedule), the details show a lot of major changes.
Foremost among these updates are built-in sharing to social networks Facebook, a desktop apps feature that customizes the browser for a site, a site account manager, a PDF viewer, and a (finally) helpful new-tab page. A major advance, too, is the appearance of native 64-bit versions of Firefox.
But keep in mind that Mozilla’s new release schedule says that new versions will only ship with ready-for-primetime features, so it’s likely that some of these will drop out of version 5 and be pushed to version 6. The organization has announced that it plans to release four versions in 2011— four through seven—using a staggered development cycle similar to the one Google uses for its Chrome browser. There’s still no entry for Firefox 5 and beyond on the official Mozilla Wiki’s upcoming releases page or Firefox Roadmap. But assuming the new release plan is followed, we could expect to see Firefox 5 by the end of June.
Most of the new features being written about by ConceivablyTech and other sites are listed in the Mozilla Wiki’s Firefox/Features/UX Priorities section. Nine completely new features are enumerated here, fleshed out in varying degrees. In addition to those mentioned above, updates include Chrome-like standardized toolbar support for Add-ons, tab multi-select, and file upload indicators. The last notes that “people are using Flash to do this right now, and it sucks.”
Mozilla’s AreWePrettyYet site, where the organization showcases new user interface designs, includes sub-directories with mockups of five of the new features—account manager, desktop apps, search bar, sync promotion, and Add-on selection.
None of the new capabilities have yet shown up in the Firefox nightly builds. These “Minefield” versions are downloadable by intrepid testers not concerned with stability. The current nightly build is designated as version “4.2a1pre.” But one encouraging note on the nightly builds page is the appearance of 64-bit versions for Windows and Linux.
The proposed social-sharing feature is showcased elsewhere, on Mozilla’s Bugzilla site. The current design adds a paper airplane icon to the address bar, which, when pressed, opens a dark dialog box where users can activate instant sharing to Facebook, Twitter, and presumably any other social network.
The “desktop apps” or “site specific browsers” feature is reminiscent of Internet Explorer 9’s Pinned Sites. Both customize the browser with a site’s dominant color and offer menus of links to site sections. The account manager has Firefox users create an overall account that will allow faster site sign-ins by clicking a button in the address bar.
The future Firefox search bar will display a color-coded search button representing each provider installed—Google, Bing, Yahoo, Wikipedia, and so on. The new Add-on interface separates extras installed specifically by the user, and makes updating and compatibility checking simpler. Another mockup, also at Bugzilla shows the traditional Home button morphed into a permanent site tab at the left of the tab bar.
Unfortunately, there’s no mockup of a new-tab page as yet. This is one area where Firefox has long trailed all other browsers, which offer navigation help when you open a new tab. Mozilla had an initiative on this front in 2009, but that was apparently dropped.
A contact at Mozilla had nothing definite to share with PCMag.com on the new Firefox features, so it will be interesting to see how many of them actually make it into the next browser version.