Firefox 8 beta brings Twitter search, tab controls

The new test version adds Twitter username and hashtag search, tab-loading controls, and restrictions on add-ons that other software might try to install.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
The beta version of Firefox 8 lets people try out built-in Twitter search.
The beta version of Firefox 8 lets people try out built-in Twitter search. Mozilla

As part of its rolling wave of updates, Mozilla today released a new beta version of Firefox that gives some new options for searching, controlling tabs, and managing add-ons.

The Firefox 8 beta (download for Windows | Mac | Linux | Android) is the newest to be released with Mozilla's six-week development cycle, in which the organization's programmers update the browser with fewer but more frequent changes. That's caused indigestion for some slower-moving Firefox users, but Mozilla believes it's necessary to remain competitive and to bring new features to users in weeks, not months. Mozilla also has proposed a slower-moving Firefox.

According to a blog post and release notes, new features include the following:

• Twitter is now an option for Firefox's built-in search box, letting people more easily find results for particular usernames or hashtags.

• When people drag tabs into a new position or tear them off into a new window, the tabs are represented by an animated version of the tab rather than just a thin line.

• When Firefox restores tabs from a previous session, for example when the browser or computer is restarted, it can be set to load only the active tab initially. With this setting, other tabs reload only when they're viewed.

• Add-ons such as toolbars that are installed by third-party software won't run until the user grants permission.

• When users upgrade to the new version, they'll see a dialog box one time that lets them disable add-ons. The dialog box will present an initial selection of only add-ons that were installed from within Firefox, though users can make their own choice.

• For the Android version of Firefox, people can set a master password "to encrypt usernames and passwords for extra security," Mozilla said in mobile Firefox release notes..

• The Android version also lets people customize the home screen with their own bookmarks.

• Restartless add-ons, a technology that lets people install the customizations without restarting the browser, now work on mobile.

Firefox logo

Mozilla wants to make Firefox on Android load faster, a key problem with the current version especially when compared to the built-in browser from Google. To that end, Mozilla is investigating mobile Firefox with a native Android interface rather than the one built using Mozilla's XUL technology. Such an approach speeds browser loading but sacrifices compatibility with add-ons built with XUL.

"We will continue the existing XUL-based Fennec [Firefox mobile] project, and future Firefox on Mobile will still be based on the XUL front-end. The team will continue focusing on startup performance, memory usage, bugs fixes, and features," said Mozilla's Doug Turner of the plan. "The Native Android UI project is an investigation at this point."

With the faster release plan, Mozilla issues three versions of Firefox: the finished stable release, the beta, and the rawest version, called Aurora. Every six weeks, the nightly builds of the browser on Mozilla's central code repository becomes the new Aurora, the older Aurora becomes the new beta, and the old beta becomes the new stable release.

Mozilla released Firefox 7 earlier this week, but paused for a day for a quick update to 7.0.1 that fixed a problem with add-ons being hidden.

Other developer-focused changes in Firefox 7 includes support for "cross-origin" options for mixing WebGL 3D graphics from different sites; a security restriction for the WebSocket technology for fast communications between browsers and Web servers; and the ability to add a lot of HTML5 video and audio elements without inflicting performance problems.

A full list of changes that developers might want to read about is available, too, though Mozilla cautions it might change.

Updated 12:24 a.m. PT September 30 with information about Mozilla work on faster launch for Firefox for Android.