Arstechnica – Mozilla has announced the public availability of Firefox 16, the latest version of its open-source web browser. While this version is light on new features that most users will notice—and missing some features many faithful users have been expecting—there are some major additions under the hood that will make Firefox 16 a better platform for developing apps for both the desktop browser and mobile web.
As we’ve reported, Firefox 15 included a whole host of user experience features, including some impressive support for web-based gaming. Firefox 16 is focused more on pushing forward the browser’s support for advanced Cascading Style Sheets features and HTML 5 programming interfaces, as well as a pair of web APIs suited specifically to tablets and mobile devices. There’s also a new feature of the browser that will appeal to both developers and power users: a command line that drives many of the browser’s internal tools.
But what’s missing from Firefox 16 is just as important—or perhaps more important—than what made it into this release. Firefox 16 still (at least officially) lacks a built-in PDF reader—while reading PDFs is supported through a browser add-in, the internal reader is still experimental. And more notably for Mac users, a whole raft of bug fixes for support of Mac OS X Lion and Mountain Lion have missed release—without any indication of when they’ll finally be rolled in.
By your command
The commands are all documented within the Command Line’s own help system. In addition, as you type into the Command Line bar, Firefox autocompletes commands, and offers syntactic help in completing them.
There are some features of the command line tool that will be useful to non-developers as well. You can also use the command line to list and clear cookies, change the settings for browser add-ons, restart the browser, and even take screenshots of a browser page.
Changes under the hood
Out-of-date plugins (such as Flash players, for example) have long been a weak point in browser security. In Firefox 14, Mozilla introduced a feature that allowed users to configure all plug-ins to require user authorization to launch, called “click to play,” that would at least allow security-conscious users to know when a web page was trying to execute content in one of them. The “click-to-play” feature isn’t exactly something that is easily configured by an average user right now—it’s buried in the about:config advanced configuration screen accessible through the browser itself.
The opt-in feature has been extended in Firefox 16 to allow Mozilla to remotely configure “click to play” for specific plug-ins based on information from their developers. This isn’t a feature users can configure—it’s specifically wired into Mozilla’s update system.
For example, in the event of a Flash player vulnerability, Adobe could pass an alert through Mozilla to users, prompting users when a site tries to launch the plug-in with an alert—essentially nagging them until they update the out-of-date software, while giving them the opportunity to avoid malicious content in the meantime. A similar feature is already part of Google Chrome.
What’s missing for Mac OS X?
While the inline PDF reader is currently slotted for Firefox 18—which will likely be released before the end of the year—the Mac OS X fixes have dropped completely off Mozilla’s release tracking radar. Some of the issues have been resolved, such as the use of Lion’s (and Mountain Lion’s) native scrollbars, and support for full-screen mode (though I experienced some bugs in full screen support when using it on a MacBook with a second, external monitor).
Also, Firefox 16 finally adds support for the VoiceOver voice-assisted navigation feature in Mac OS X, allowing users to navigate through content from their keyboard and describing content by voice as it’s moused over. But other interface elements, such as support for multitouch gestures like pinching to zoom in and out (already supported on Firefox’s mobile browser) and the three-finger double-tap to bring up a dictionary definition of a word), remain untouched.
The same is true for the swiping gesture for moving back and forth through history, as is supported in Safari. (Chrome supports these gestures, but without the animation used by other applications.)
Mac interface purists holding out for those features won’t be happy anytime soon. That’s because the bug requests to make Firefox more Lion-friendly haven’t even been assigned yet. Considering there’s a whole new set of gesture-based fixes that will be needed to support Windows 8, it’s not likely they’ll be getting much priority.