Mozilla is prepping a new version of Firefox in an effort to rally in the race for browser supremacy, which currently has Chrome way out in front. The next version of Mozilla's browser -- Firefox 57 for those scoring at home -- promises fast speeds and a new look. It's due out in November, but you can take Firefox 57 for a test drive today.
Spend a day with Firefox Nightly
Mozilla offers three prerelease versions of Firefox: Beta, Developer Edition and Nightly. Nightly offers the farthest look into the future and offers a glimpse at the upcoming Firefox 57. You can download Firefox Nightly here.
Fire the Photon
Mozilla is making Firefox faster with Project Quantum. While speed gains are certainly appreciated, the first thing you'll notice when you fire up Firefox 57 is its new UI, which Mozilla is calling Photon. Firefox 57 looks flatter and more streamlined than the current version. It has a dark title at the top with -- gasp! -- . Inside the URL bar, you'll find three new buttons along with a new screenshot button to the right of the URL bar. And the new-tab page has a new look.
Let's take a look at these new UI elements:
New buttons in the URL bar
To the right of the down-arrow button that shows the history of your current tab, you'll find three buttons have been added to Firefox's URL bar: a triple-dot Page Actions button, a star button to bookmark the current page and a Pocket button to save a page for later reading. (It should be noted that Firefox bought Pocket earlier this year.) A book icon will show up when reading mode is available.
The bookmark and Pocket buttons have been moved from the right of the URL bar to inside it, but the Page Actions button is new. Click it and you'll get a small menu to Copy URL, Email Link and Send to Device. The Page Actions menu also has bookmark and Pocket buttons, which seems redundant at first but then I realized you can remove those items from the URL bar by right-clicking them. You can't remove the new, triple-dot Page Actions button.
New screenshot tool
Firefox 57 has added a screenshot button in the top-right corner. Click the little scissors button and you can use the new screenshot tool. It highlights different elements on a page as you mouse over them, or you can just click-and-drag the old-school way to take a screenshot of a portion of a page. Screenshots are saved within Firefox. Click the scissors button and then click the little My Shots window to open a new tab of all of your saved screenshots. From here you can download them or share them.
New, new tab page
The new tab page for the current version of Firefox features a search box and a grid of Top Sites -- the ones you visit regularly. The new tab page in Firefox 57 includes the search bar and Top Sites but also adds a section of recommended sites by Pocket. Click the gear icon in the top-right corner of the new tab page to select which of these sections you'd like to appear. Uncheck all three for a blank new tab page.
A parting word of warning
As with any prerelease software, Firefox Nightly 57 is meant for developers and will likely exhibit strange and unstable behavior from time to time. Also, there is no guarantee that the final release will look like what you see in the current version of Nightly. For example, I have read reports that the search box next to Firefox's URL bar may be on the chopping block. It's part of the design of the current Nightly build but I wouldn't be surprised if it gets dropped between now and November since most web users have grown accustomed to entering their search queries right in the URL bar. Just as you can with the current version of Firefox, however, you can customize which elements are displayed at the top of Firefox Nightly 57, including the search box.
Read more: Stephen Shankland's special report on Firefox fighting back against Chrome.