It was only a couple of months ago that we reviewed Mozilla’s Firefox 5 web browser, which came hot on the heels of our Firefox 4 review. Now there’s Firefox 6. It’s hard to keep up with these rapid-fire web browser updates.
Firefox updates used to creep out under small incremental version numbers, such as 3.6.4. Now we’re getting major initial number updates every couple of months. Google's Chrome web browser isn't much better - already reaching version 10. Ancient browser Microsoft Interner Explorer has only recently staggered to version 9.
And Firefox 6 isn’t a minor upgrade. There are more than a thousand changes under the hood of the latest version of Firefox.
That said, only a few of these changes provide worthwhile reasons for upgrading to the newest release of the browser. But some are compelling.
Firefox 6 speed increases
The first reason to upgrade to Firefox 6 is speed, although that point is debatable.
According to Mozilla, startup times with Firefox 6 are better than on Firefox 5, especially if a user is using Firefox's Panorama feature.
Panorama allows users to organize tabs into groups. Having Firefox launch several groups on startup has been a sure-fire way to bog down that process in the past.
Any speed improvements over the sluggish performance of Firefox 5 is welcome news for users, but overall performance of Firefox's latest incarnation appears to be more problematic.
For example, Dan Howley pointed out in Laptop magazine that Firefox 6 is actually slower than its progenitor when evaluated with a benchmarking program called Peacemaker.
Peacemaker evaluates a browser's performance using Java and assigns a score to it. The higher the score, the better the performance.
Firefox 6 had a score of 4.572 when Howley ran Peacemaker on it. That's slightly lower than Firefox 5, which scored 4.733. By comparison, Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 scored 4.830 and Chrome got 8.400.
Benchmarking scores, though, can be deceptive, which may be the case with Firefox 6. It may score lower than the previous release of the program, but from a user's point of view, it feels faster.
Firefox 6 URL display
Another reason to upgrade to Firefox 6 is the way it displays URLs in the address bar. The domain of a website is more distinct than the rest of its address. So in a URL like http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/6.0/releasenotes/, www.mozilla.com would be emphasized.
That's a feature that Chrome and IE9 have had for some time. While it seems like a simple addition, it's valuable for quickly spotting if a URL is questionable, as might be the case if a user clicks on larcenous link in a phishing message.
Firefox 6 security
Security is also bolstered in Firefox 6 with a new permissions feature. It allows a user to configure the permissions for a particular website by typing "about:permissions" on the address bar.
With it, a user can configure such things as acceptance of cookies, location sharing, pop-ups, passwords and data storage.
Why is that a selling point for Firefox 6? It lets a user beef up the overall security of the browser, while letting the person remove restrictions on sites they trust.
By choosing tough restrictions as the default security settings for the software, a user can be better protected against accidently visiting a malicious website and getting their computer infected with malware.
Yet, users don't have to worry about the restrictions creating a barrier to productive use of trusted sites.
Firefox 6 cost
The fourth reason for upgrading to Firefox 6 is probably the least compelling, but also the most irresistible. Firefox 6 is a free upgrade to a favourite program. What more reason does a user need?
So what’s wrong with Firefox 6?
On the strength of all the above upgrading to Firefox 6 seems a no-brainer. But there are dissenters who warn against the update.
Just like Firefox 5 before it, Firefox 6 will break some of your favourite add-ons. What worked just fine in Firefox 4 may well not work at all in Firefox 5 or 6. And why would developers scramble to update them when there’s probably Firefox 7 round the corner?
And that’s a security issue, too. If Mozilla keeps releasing new versions of Firefox every couple of months the security issues of each version are never fully patched. Your only option to keep your PC or Mac safe from intrusion is to keep upgrading to the latest version of the web browser – making add-ons incompatible and opening new security holes along the way.
Suddenly even slow-old Microsoft Internet Explorer starts looking secure. And Google’s Chrome looks like a beacon of version-upgrade sanity. Even Apple's Safari 5 might be worth a punt...
Firefox users can’t really do anything but upgrade their favourite web browser. Mozilla makes it easy, and anyway dumps development of the previous version.
If you’re committed to using Firefox as your web browser upgrading to version 6 is almost compulsory. Stick with Firefox 4 or 5 and you’re open to security breaches. But updating to Firefox 6 may mean your Firefox add-ons no longer work with the browser. Maybe you should consider moving back to IE or over to Google’s Chrome. If you’re happy with Firefox, however, version 6 offers greater speed, better security (until Firefox 7), user-interface catch-ups with Chrome, and the hope that all your add-ons are eventually updated too.