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Mozilla Releases Firefox 8 Beta, Includes Twitter Search

Hot on the heels of version 7, the beta of Firefox 8 brings more tweaks and added features.

Just days after pushing Firefox 7 out the door, Mozilla has released the beta version of Firefox 8. It includes some feature improvements, a handful of interface tweaks, and a few goodies for developers. Mozilla has also added features to the Android version of the browser.

Among the new features in Firefox 8 is the addition of Twitter to the list of default search engines that users can access from the browser's toolbar. The new entry--which is available only in the Mac and Linux versions of the browser--makes searching for hash tags (#firefox, #browser, and such) on the microblogging site easier.

Another improvement: As a security precaution, Firefox 8 will warn you before any third-party add-on launches for the first time. That approach should keep you from being surprised by an unwanted applet's sudden appearance on the Firefox toolbar.

In this version of the browser, Mozilla has modified tabs in a couple of ways. In the Windows and Mac releases of the beta, you can configure the software so that it restores only the tabs you've selected; this tweak can improve startup times in cases when the browser has saved many tabs on exit. Tab animation is also improved, making it easier to "tear off" tabs and move them around.

Among the treats for developers in the beta is the use of Cross-Origin Resource Sharing for more secure loading of textures from other domains, plus another security improvement: prevention of the creation of plaintext WebSockets from an SSL page.

Improved HTML 5 support is included in the new offering too. Firefox 8 allows developers to add items to the program's right-click menu by using the HTML 5 markup language, as well as to add lots of video and audio elements to a website without dragging down performance.

The Android beta of the browser also gains Twitter search. In addition, it gives users the ability to create a master password to protect usernames and passwords stored in the program, along with the ability to create site bookmarks by dragging and dropping URLs from the address bar to the Android home screen.

Some major changes may be in store for the Android version of Firefox, however. Long criticized for the mobile browser's slow launch time, the team working on that flavor of Firefox is mulling over "going native" and ditching Mozilla's XUL user interface language as the basis for Android Firefox. Experiments with the browser using Android's native user interface language have been promising.

With its new accelerated schedule, Mozilla produces a new whole new version of Firefox within 18 weeks. For six weeks, a version is in the raw "Aurora" stage. At the end of those six weeks, it becomes a beta. And after another six weeks, it turns into the next version number.

That accelerated schedule can have an impact on quality control. For example, just hours after Mozilla released Firefox 7 this week, it had to roll out version 7.0.1 quickly to address an add-ons problem that occurred when users upgraded from version 6--Firefox 7, apparently, was hiding previously installed add-ons. While it seemed to many users that the add-ons and their data had disappeared during the upgrade, both were in fact still intact, Mozilla explained.

The stepped-up production schedule for Firefox doesn't seem to have helped its browser rankings, either. In fact, the rate of growth of Google's Chrome browser, coupled with declines in Firefox users, has prompted some analysts to predict that Chrome will top Firefox in the browser rankings by the end of the year.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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