What's coming in Firefox 11

Firefox 11 will include some fairly radical changes for the browser, as Flash support and the faster native Android interface debut in Aurora and the desktop version marks the end of update security warnings on Windows.

Firefox for Android's new clothes

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Big changes are arriving in the developer's build of Firefox for Android in a bid to make it more appealing, while the significantly more popular desktop version is getting several noteworthy but smaller changes, the company announced at the end of 2011.

Available for download now, the first versions of Firefox 11 Aurora for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android came out just after the stable build of the browser updated to version 9. The Android update is again the more notable release, as the new native Android interface reaches a wider audience. For the first time, the browser also supports playing Adobe Flash content, which competitors like Dolphin HD and Opera have offered for a while.

The new Firefox for Android Start page has cleaned up its act.

The new Firefox for Android Start page has cleaned up its act.

(Credit: Mozilla)

This is more than a new look, though, as many of the browser's features have been stripped out. This includes Firefox Sync, which allows seamless synchronization of personal data like bookmarks, passwords, and browsing history, and Mozilla's popular add-ons. In a blog post announcing Firefox 11 Aurora for Android, Mozilla promises that Sync and add-ons will return "soon."

Personally, I've found Sync to be the single most useful feature in the mobile browser. To be able to open a tab on the desktop, and have it nearly instantaneously pushed to my Android, makes jumping from desktop to phone or tablet practically seamless. On the other hand, very rough testing indicates that Firefox 11 is a much faster browser. While site-loading tests indicate speed gains only around half a second to a full second, initial app start time tests show major speed gains over the current Firefox 9 of around 50 percent.

Meanwhile, Firefox 11 Aurora for desktops gets two useful changes. Windows 7 and Vista users will no longer see the User Account Control (UAC) for Firefox after the browser's initial installation. This completes Firefox's alignment with Chrome's seamless updates, which haven't required your interaction with the UAC. On first installation, the browser now adds Chrome to its list of browsers from which it can import your personal data.

Other changes in Firefox 11 Aurora are aimed at developers. More HTML5 code is supported, Google's SPDY protocol for faster site loading can now be tested, Tilt support allows for 3D Web page visualization, and the HTML5 video controls have been redesigned. Check out the Firefox 11 Aurora changelog published by Mozilla.

Although Firefox Sync is expected to break on Android under the current interface, this mock-up indicates that Mozilla isn't about to let it die.

Although Firefox Sync is expected to break on Android under the current interface, this mock-up indicates that Mozilla isn't about to let it die.

(Credit: Mozilla)

The new Aurora builds bump Firefox 10 to beta status. Changes in this version offer users an improved add-on experience, as all compatible add-ons except for binary add-ons will not be disabled by the browser. This sorts out the "maxversion" situation, which required developers to set a Firefox version number with which the add-on would stop being compatible. Mozilla expects that this will significantly decrease the number of problems related to add-ons. The Sync setup process has been improved, too.

For developers, Firefox 10 beta improves the developer experience in the browser with a bucket of changes. These include support of the full-screen API for better gaming in Firefox, Page Inspector and Style Inspector for testing new code, WebGL improvements for better 3D rendering, and Orion code editor support in the Scratchpad tool for on-the-fly coding. Mozilla released the Firefox 10 beta changelog here, with a scheduled graduation to stable release the last week in January.

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