Apr 022013
 

Firefox 20 has been released today with a new Download experience, per-window Private Browsing and many other technical improvements as reviewed below:

Per-window Private Browsing – To start a Private Browsing session in Firefox 20 just select the new ‘New Private Window’ menu option from the Firefox button (or under ‘File’ on the menu bar or use the CTRL+Shift+P shortcut) – this opens a new Private window, separate from your current window.

This makes much more sense than before (and is like Chrome’s Incognito mode) as it means you can run a Private window at the same time as your current normal window. Previously, private browsing used to just save and hide your current tabs so you could only browse in either Private or normal mode – not both in their own window at the same time.

ESC key does not stop animated GIFs playing – Hitting the ESC key used to stop annoying animated GIFs from playing but Firefox 20 removes that functionality. I reviewed the reasons for this change in more detail earlier and provided an alternative way to pause animated GIFs in Firefox 20 onwards.

New Download Interface – Previously, the progress of downloads opened in a separate window. The new Download interface is panel-based – when you begin a download, the Downloads icon appears at the end of the navigation bar and the panel shows the file download progress.

To see a history of downloads from previous sessions click ‘Show All Downloads’ to open up the Downloads Library window as shown below:

FF20

Downloads Library

The new download interface displays the usual information about each download e.g. the file name, file size and time remaining before the download is complete. You can still pause and resume or cancel and retry a download. However the new interface does not display a Pause/Resume button, only a ‘x’ to Cancel – nor is there a Clear List or Search button…

To apply other actions e.g. Cancel or Clear List you need to right click the downloading file and choose from a pop up menu as shown below:

firefox download 2

This is a step backwards as it takes longer than the old version to have to choose from a popup menu.

Downloads Icon – When a file has finished downloading, the usual confirmation message appears, the download interface panel automatically hides itself and the downloads icon turns green. You can click the downloads icon to display the interface panel again or use the hotkey – press CTRL+j.

It is also possible to change the position of the downloads icon if you don’t want it at the end of the navigation bar: right click an empty space in/above the navigation bar and choose ‘Customize’ then drag the Downloads icon to wherever you want it to appear and press ‘Done’ when finished.

The panel-based design is a forerunner of future user interface changes planned – to make features and options appear within the current window, instead of opening new ones. For example, Firefox Options are also scheduled to receive a tab based, rather than windowed, treatment in a future version – see note 2 below.

How To Disable The New Download Panel? If you really don’t want to use the new Download panel, do the following:

  • Open Firefox and type about:config in the address bar and press Enter. Click the “I’ll be careful I Promise” warning button to reveal a long list of preferences.
  • Search for (see tip below) or scroll down to the preference named “browser.download.useToolkitUI” – the default Value is ‘false’ i.e. use the new Download Panel.
  • Double click it to change the Value to ‘true’.
  • Close the about:config tab – the new Panel based download manager is now disabled and downloads will revert back to the previous Download window manager.

Tip: You can scroll down the list of preferences but the quickest way to find it is to just type part of the preference name (e.g. toolkitui) into the Search box at the top of the config page.

Ability to close hanging (crashing) plugins – Firefox 20 introduces the ability to close such plugins individually, without the browser also hanging.

Reset the Awesomebar search provider – FF20 offers to reset the search provider back to the default (Google) if it has been changed by third-party software or through about:config – this is probably intended to help those who have suffered from pesky toolbars/addons that changed the search provider without the user’s knowledge. The relevant entry in about:config is keyword.url – advanced users may have configured this previously e.g. to make Google searches in the address bar search by name and go straight to the right website (as shown in our Tweaking Firefox guide). If you did, make sure you choose not to reset the Awesomebar search provider or you will lose your customization.

Continued performance improvements – areas such as page loads, shutdown and downloads etc have seen further technical improvements.

Data Choices tab –  this is a new tab available under Firefox Options \ Advanced – here you can choose whether to submit Telemetry and/or Crash data to Mozilla (in the background) to help them improve the browser in future.

Developer and HTML5 enhancements – e.g. users can speed up playback of HTML5 videos (and audio) plus many important fixes and security fixes. For a full list of changes, see the official Release Notes here.

New Features Present But Still Disabled – These are new features introduced in the last few releases which haven’t yet been enabled. Whilst they work fine for me it is possible they could have outstanding bugs but more adventurous users (or those wishing to get an early view of future features) can choose to enable them – they can easily be disabled again if they cause any issues:

1. Click to Play – this feature (configure all plugins to only load on click) is still not enabled by default. However, you can activate it via a change in about:config – see Activating Click To Play and Add a Button to switch Click To Play on or off.

2. In Content Preferences – this feature (Firefox Options open in a new tab instead of a separate window) is also still not enabled by default. However, you can activate it via a change in about:config – see Enable In Content Preferences.

Conclusion

The new panel-based Download interface works well enough but the lack of buttons such as Pause/Resume and Clear List is a let down compared to the previous design. Per-window Private Browsing is a welcome improvement though and brings Firefox into line with similar privacy modes in other browsers.

As usual, this new version will be available as an upgrade for existing users from today over several days (to avoid overloading Mozilla’s servers). If you check for updates (via Firefox Menu \ Help \ About Firefox \ Check For Updates) and find there are none available yet, try again a day or two later. It is also available (in regional variations) via the full download at Mozilla here.

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