The web is fundamental to most of us. If it were unavailable for a day, we’d find it challenging to get our work done. Arguably the most significant tool for using the web is a browser. The big five – Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Opera and Mozilla Firefox – continuously try to outsmart each other by being faster, easier to use and offering more features; the latest browser to release a significant update is Firefox.
Firefox fans have waited a long time for a major update to their favourite browser – it was in January 2010 that version 3.6 appeared. Now in version 4, Mozilla has for the first time created dedicated Firefox browsers ?for Google Android and Maemo (a Nokia platform).
Many of the changes in Firefox 4 reflect our increasing dependency on the web for day-to-day life. Most of us use web-based programs for our communications, either via a webmail client, Twitter or Facebook, but online productivity software such as Google Docs is also becoming increasingly popular with those wanting to get work done from wherever they may be.
Other changes are concerned with managing all our open web pages, handling add-ons, synchronising browsing data between PCs, protecting our privacy and taking advantage of the latest technologies, such as HTML5.
Here, we provide a simple guide to help you find your way around the best of Firefox 4’s new and old features.
Step 1. Head to mozilla.org and click ‘Get Firefox’ to download the browser. Close your web browser, then follow the prompts to install Firefox. Launch the application. The setup procedure will ask whether you want to import Options, Bookmarks, History, Passwords and other data from your default browser.
Step 2. The first thing you’ll notice about the new browser is its uncluttered layout. There’s no menu bar, for instance. Instead, you’ll simply find tabs at the top of the screen, and the Awesome (URL) bar and search field below. Usefully, this layout allows a greater viewing area for web pages.
Step 3. If you would prefer to see Firefox’s menu bar, press Alt. The menu bar will appear at the top of the screen, above the row of tabs. Here, you’ll be able to access a familiar range of menu options, including File, Edit, View, History, Bookmarks, Tools and Help, with each offering more options via a drop-down menu.
Step 4. Under normal circumstances, the Firefox button replaces the menu bar. It sits in the top left corner of the screen. Click this to access a drop-down menu of frequently used settings, such as New Tab, Start Private Browsing, Save Page As, Print and Full Screen. Some items in the list also have sub-menus.
Step 5. For websites that you frequently use, a shortcut can be added to the browser in the form of an App Tab. Navigate to the site, then right-click the tab and choose ‘Pin as App Tab’. A small tab will appear to the left of the row, identified by its icon. It will remain there until you restart the browser.
Step 6. Press Ctrl, B to bring up the Bookmarks pane at the left of the screen. Alternatively, tap the Bookmarks icon at the top right to open the Bookmarks menu. Use this to open a Bookmarks Toolbar or to see bookmark groups. You can also manage bookmarks using the Firefox button.
Step 7. A new feature called Panorama adds a twist to bookmarking. You can create groups of tabs for visiting later. This helps keep the tabs area clutter-free and organised. Tap the icon on the right of the tab bar, then choose Tab Groups. This will display all your open tabs and let you organise them in different ways.
Step 8. To form a new group, drag any tab out of the main group and drag other tabs on top of it. To leave Panorama mode, simply click on a tab. The tab and all its associated tabs will launch, but none of the others will. To open another tab group, re-enter Panorama mode and select a new tab.
Step 9. Firefox 4 includes a new Add-ons Manager, making it easier to find and install add-ons. You no longer need to restart the browser following their installation either. Click the Firefox button and choose Add-ons. Note that there are four groupings: Add-ons, Extensions, Appearance and Plugins.
Step 10. Because many of us use more than one PC, Firefox Sync can be used to synchronise open tabs, history, bookmarks, passwords and forms data. Click the Firefox button and choose ‘Set Up Sync’. If you already have a Firefox Sync password, enter it now; new users will need to create an account, then set up options.
Step 11. Private browsing is useful on shared PCs where you don’t want others to see your browsing history. This mode won’t save cookies, cache files, passwords, history, download information, search queries or form data from your session. To start Private Browsing, click the Firefox button and choose ‘Start Private Browsing’.
Step 12. It’s easy to get confused when you have lots of open tabs, which can also unnecessarily consume system resources. In Firefox 4, when you type in the URL of a tab that’s already open, it gives you the option to ‘Switch to tab’ rather than open a second identical tab and make matters more confusing.
Step 13. Firefox 4 leaves some old favourites unchanged; ‘Find’ is one of them. It’s a useful tool that aids in scanning long web pages for particular content. Click the Firefox button and choose ‘Find’. Type the text you’re looking for into the bar at the bottom of the screen and choose to match finds one by one or ‘Highlight all’.
Step 14. There’s a lot more to explore in Firefox 4 than we have room to discuss in these pages. A good place to start is the Options menu. Click the Firefox button and choose Options, then work your way through its General, Tabs, Content, Applications, Privacy, Security, Sync and Advanced tabs.