Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1 - Free download and software reviews - CNET Download.com

Mozilla Firefox

CNET Editors' review

Please note that the First Look video below is still applicable to Firefox 15, as is this Firefox How To collection, even though it features Firefox 4. A new video will be posted soon.

Firefox reborn in version 4

Review:
Mozilla Firefox has undergone an enormous rebirth over the past two years. Since Firefox 4 debuted in March 2011, the browser has been hell-bent on improvements. These have come in large part on the rapid-release cycle, which sees a new version of Firefox every six weeks. Many people like them, but a vocal minority has pooh-poohed the increase in version numbers. That's hardly a legitimate complaint in a world where mobile apps also update silently and effectively, but the transition for Firefox hasn't been an easy one.

As you can see, Firefox is on version 15 at the time of this review. As a point of comparison, Chrome is currently on version 21 even though it only launched in 2008. The benefit, of course, is a browser that is safer and sleeker, with fewer problems because bugs get fixed on a regular basis.

The Firefox that you can download now is in the same speed category as its competition; offers many similar features (stronger in some areas and slightly weaker in others); includes broad, cross-platform support for hardware acceleration and other "future Web" tech and standards; and is a must-have for Android users (download for Android).

Firefox 15's big claim to fame is locking down memory leaks caused by add-ons, long browsing sessions, and heavy tab usage. The company released data showing huge gains in recovering memory with 150 tabs open, so you're likely to see big gains with only 50 tabs.

On the performance side, Firefox 15 now has Google's SPDY protocol on by default. That means that Web sites that support it, such as Google.com and Twitter.com, will load faster and safer. SPDY is safer because it forces SSL encryption for all connections.

It's important to point out that there are four versions of Firefox available at the moment, and this review only addresses the stable branch, intended for general use. Firefox's other channels -- Firefox beta (download for Windows | Mac | Linux); Firefox Aurora, analogous to Google Chrome's dev channel (download Aurora for Windows | Mac | Linux); and the bleeding-edge, updated-nightly Firefox Minefield (download for all versions) -- are respectively progressively less stable versions of the browser, and aimed at developers.

Installation
Firefox installs quickly, your connection and hardware notwithstanding. There are no pop-ups asking you to register, and although an infobar link to Mozilla's Know your rights page at about:rights does appear, it's unobtrusive.

We're big fans of Firefox's rapid-release cycle. Initially wonky implementation has given way to a mature automatic update process. If you're on Windows, you'll be asked to agree to the User Account Control only when you install for the first time. Thereafter, the browser updates silently.

If you're installing Firefox for the first time, or installing after wiping all profile data, the browser will open to the new about:home Start page. It hosts a Google search box in the middle, and links to Downloads, Bookmarks, History, Add-ons, Sync, Settings, and Restore previous session at the bottom.

If you're updating Firefox from an older version, it checks your add-ons to see which ones you installed and which ones come from third-party vendors, such as security suite makers. The browser will ask if you'd like to disable any of these third-party add-ons. On top of that, all third-party add-ons are blocked from autoinstalling. Instead, you'll be presented with the option to allow them or block them on a per-case basis. This puts Firefox squarely on the side of the user.

We recommend that you set up Sync at this point, because it will allow you to synchronize and backup all your settings, add-ons, and personal browsing data. If you're extremely concerned about your data, you can set up Sync to work with your own server.

Careful Firefox observers will notice that the browser no longer ships with a separate icon for Safe Mode. Simply hold down Shift; when you click on the Firefox icon to open a box, you will be allowed to customize which settings carry over to Safe Mode.

Note that people coming to Firefox from version 3.6 or older ought to be prepared for a lengthier install time because of the significant code changes since then.

Firefox automatically installs a Windows 7 taskbar icon if you choose it as your default browser. Uninstalling the browser does not leave behind any icons or folders if you choose to remove your settings at the same time.

Interface
As PCs continue to be rocked by mobile devices, many traditional desktop programs have found minimizing interface chrome to be popular. Google's Chrome browser kicked off this trend in a big way, allowing Web sites to shine through, and while other browser vendors have done their best to go minimal differently, it's hard to not acknowledge the lineage.

Firefox does a good job of taking the concept of minimal and putting its own spin on it. It has small navigation buttons the same height as the location and search bars. The Home button has moved to the right side of the location bar. Tabs are on top for heightened visibility and maximize space given to the Web site you're viewing, while on Windows the control menus are hidden behind the orange Firefox button in the upper left corner.

Menu options have been spread across two columns, and while nearly all the submenus have been redesigned, the hot keys remain the same for a gentle learning curve. In fact, the menu redesign makes it much easier to get to bookmarks, add-ons, and history, as they now all live on one Menu pane. The Menu button is not available to Mac users, to keep with the Mac OS X theme.

In addition to the major changes to the menu, smaller changes have greatly improved usability. For example, there's now a Get Bookmark Add-ons link in the Bookmarks submenu. The History submenu now has Recently Closed Tabs and Recently Closed Windows sections.

Tabs are on top by default, and while the forward and back navigation buttons haven't moved, the stop and refresh buttons are now attached to the right side of the location bar, next to the bookmark star. When you're typing a URL, the Go button appears at the end of the location bar as an arrow. While resolving a URL, the box changes from the Go arrow to an X for the new Stop button. It might be hard for some to see since the traditional stop-and-go colors of red and green have been removed. You can customize the Firefox skin with the restartless Personas add-ons.

Right of the location bar lives the traditional search box, with its drop-down list of search engines. Above that on the tab bar there is a new button that lists all your open tabs, and you can add a button to access the Panorama tab-grouping feature. If you don't see the button, you can add it by right-clicking on the interface and choosing Customize, then dragging and dropping the Tab Groups icon next to the List All Tabs button. We don't consider many customizations to be essential, but this one is. The combination of tab grouping and Firefox's robust tab-memory management means you can keep open tabs around much longer than other browsers.

The Status bar that lives at the bottom of the interface is now hidden by default, again in keeping with the minimalist philosophy and the competition. There's a new Add-on bar as well, also hidden by default, to which extension icons can be added if you want to keep add-on icons easily available but out of the way of the main interface.

One of Firefox's singular strengths is its capacity for customization, which remains unparalleled and which is accessible even to novice users. While competing browsers do offer add-ons and extensions, Firefox remains far ahead of all of them in interface customization. And so, if you don't like the new interface, it's quite easy to revert it to an older style -- or just about any other look -- using add-ons and themes.

Features and support
Firefox is one of the most progressive major browsers available, an early adopter if not always an innovator. Its features cover the range of browsing essentials, from allowing you to heavily customize your browser while respecting your privacy, to giving developers the tools they need, to supporting the technologies that are driving the future of the Web.

One of the most important features in the modern Firefox is Sync. Sync smoothly synchronizes your add-ons, bookmarks, passwords, preferences, history, and tabs, not only with Firefox on other computers, but also with your Android version of Firefox. It's easy to set up, and if you're concerned about privacy, you can change sync to work with your personal server instead of Mozilla's. Firefox encrypts your data before sending it over an encrypted connection to its servers, where it remains encrypted. Mozilla says that the company would not be able to access it even if somebody there wanted to.

Tabs are a big part of browsing, and Firefox has the best tab management around. Thanks to recent memory-management improvements, you can now comfortably scale from two or three tabs to more than 100 without seeing a major performance hit over time. The aforementioned Panorama lets you group them out of sight until needed, and when you restart Firefox only the last open tab will become active. The others, while visible, won't load their content until you click on them. Panorama's groups let you label them which keeps organizational problems to a minimum.

The overall idea is to make it easier to switch from one tab to another, to group or regroup related tabs, and to get a global view of what's going on with your tabs. It's potentially a big improvement in browser usage, compared to aiming a mouse at a skinny tab, cycling through a list with Ctrl-Tab keystrokes, or pecking at a drop-down menu to reach the tabs that overflowed off into the deep.

Switch to Tab is a minor feature but incredibly useful. Open a new tab and start typing the name of an already-open tab, and the URL will appear in the drop-down with Switch to Tab beneath it. Select that one, and the new tab closes and you're whisked to the pre-existing tab. It's a great trick for cutting down on the amount of time it takes to sift through 45 open tabs, and removes the chance of accidentally having the same tab open twice or more.

You can also drag tabs around to reorder them, pin them as permanent "app tabs" next to the Menu button, or rip them off into their own windows.

Firefox add-ons have long been the brightest feathers in the browser's cap. While there are other more important browsing developments going on to close observers, add-ons remain important to the vast majority of people. The most popular Firefox add-ons have millions of users. The browser supports modern restartless add-ons, which install without needing to reboot the browser, as well as the legacy add-ons that helped drive its growth.

The add-on manager lets you search for add-ons without going to the external Mozilla Add-on Web site. You can create collections of add-ons to share in the Get Add-ons tab, navigate backward and forward through add-on searches, and as mentioned in the Installation section, it blocks add-ons from installing without your approval.

The Bookmarks and History menus, and Download Manager, leave a bit to be desired. They're not bad, but it's clear that they could use some redesigning when compared to the competition. We'd like to see them appear in their own tabs, as they do in Chrome, instead of in separate pop-up windows.

The location bar -- or as Mozilla calls it, the Awesome Bar -- retains familiar features, such as the options to search your history and bookmarks and to tap into your default search engine to provide you with quick results, without having to use the search box.

The "identity block," the colored left-most section of the URL, has been given a refresh to better call out the Web site you're on. The URL bar itself now changes the text color of the URL you're on so that the domain is black, for easy identification, while the rest of the URL is gray. This sounds small but is important, since it's a strong visual cue to help you avoid getting spoofed.

Also on the security front, Firefox was an early adopter of Do Not Track, which indicates via a header notification that you want to opt out of targeted advertisements. However, it requires that the Web site you're viewing, and therefore that site's developers, respect the header itself. While this is great for future-proofing the Web, not many Web sites have taken notice of it. That doesn't mean it won't eventually have a big impact, but that time is not now, and it's better to install an add-on like Adblock Plus or Do Not Track Plus to get more complete ad-tracking protection.

The Content Security Policy blocks one of the most common types of browser threats, cross-site scripting attacks, by allowing sites to tell the browser which content is legitimate. Though CSP also places the burden on the sites' developers, it's backward-compatible and aimed mostly at well-known sites hosting immense volumes of data and content.

Another security improvement is the implementation of HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS). This prevents your log-in information from being intercepted by telling Firefox to automatically create a secure connection to a site's servers.

Under the hood, Firefox supports full hardware acceleration across all platforms, which means that the browser draws on your graphics card to speed up complex rendering. You'll see dramatic HTML5 support, including for high-definition WebM video, and broad support for the HTML5 canvas, video, audio, geolocation, drag and drop, and form tags. OpenType fonts are supported, as are CSS3 and newer JavaScript values. WebGL and hardware acceleration give the browser a massive boost, which we'll discuss in the Performance section below.

A new Web Developer menu collates tools for building and debugging Web sites in one location. One such is the ScratchPad tool, which browsers like Opera and Chrome have had for some time. It allows developers to test JavaScript and CSS before implementing it. The Web console feature also has a new autocomplete option and can have its location customized. Another dev tool, unique to Firefox, is a 3D visualizer called Tilt, that lets developers see in real time how their code will render on the site.

Firefox is on the cutting edge of the next generation of Web standards, and that benefits you immensely by offering faster rendering times of Web sites that can do more.

Performance
Firefox 15 introduces a series of memory-management improvements that dramatically increase the stability of the browser. These changes, covered by the internal Mozilla moniker MemShrink, basically mean that the browser can handle a huge number of tabs and add-ons longer than before. Firefox 15 is eminently stable.

As mentioned earlier, the browser's overall performance has been greatly improved by tying performance to the graphics processing unit (GPU) hardware acceleration. This allows the browser to shove certain rendering tasks onto the computer's graphics card, freeing up CPU resources while making page rendering and animations load faster. The tasks include composition support, rendering support, and desktop compositing.

JavaScript plays a major role in the modern Web, and changes to the JaegerMonkey engine combined with the GPU acceleration give the browser some serious juice. Ongoing improvements in browser technology make regular browser testing a challenge, but March 2011's browser benchmark battle placed Firefox 4 ahead of Chrome 11 and Internet Explorer 9. It wouldn't be surprising to find that Chrome and Firefox currently test much closer to each other because of their regular updates.

CNET Labs will have an update to our performance benchmarks in the coming weeks. For now, our most recent numbers are from March 2011, when Firefox 4 was released.

One interesting publicly available benchmark is JSGameBench from Facebook, which looks to test HTML5 in real-world gaming situations. JSGameBench hasn't posted new results since April 2011, but the ones it did post gave strong marks to the Firefox 4 beta both with and without WebGL. The stable version of Firefox 4 also did well in JSGameBench tests once it was released.

Note that to effectively use hardware acceleration, you must make sure that your graphics card drivers are up-to-date.

Browser benchmarks are a notoriously fidgety lot, and often come up against legitimate complaints that they look at too narrow a set of features -- such as checking only JavaScript rendering times. In hands-on use, at least, Firefox 15 can more than hold its own. It's not clear that it's enough to counter the past three years of Chrome decisively winning the fastest-browser PR campaign, but that may no longer be the point. All five major browsers are now similarly fast at JavaScript tests, and you may want to start looking at other criteria to determine which browser is best for you.

Firefox has plug-in crash protection, which prevents plug-ins like Adobe Flash, Apple QuickTime, and Microsoft Silverlight from causing the browser to drop dead. If one of them crashes, simply reload the page.

Conclusion
Firefox is in an unusual position as the modern Internet stands on the precipice of the second phase of the digital age. As the world prepares for high-powered, always-connected smartphones to dominate, one of the most competitive and forward-thinking browsers comes from an independent nonprofit company.

Firefox's open-source approach and recent developer tools improvements means that the people designing your favorite sites will come back for more, while Mozilla's investment in pushing open Web standards means that the Web has a powerful, noncorporate advocate. Despite the heavy competition from Google, Microsoft, and Apple, and as long as it avoids stagnating, Firefox will have a bright future ahead of it.

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All User Reviews
  • All versions:

    4.3 stars

    out of 15,463 votes

    • 5 star: 10276
    • 4 star: 2419
    • 3 star: 971
    • 2 star: 629
    • 1 star: 1168
  • Current version:

    3.5 stars

    out of 28 votes

    • 5 star: 11
    • 4 star: 5
    • 3 star: 4
    • 2 star: 4
    • 1 star: 4
  • My rating:

    0 stars

    Write review

Results 1-10 of 28

  • 5.0 stars

    "FF just keeps getting better and faster."

    October 7, 2012  |   By salesalex

    Version: Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1

    Pros

    Excellent interface which can be manually adjusted .
    I like its unique fast options for ZOOM ,PAGE SIZE ,DOWNLOAD , TABS and SEARCH ENGINES .
    'Home' page can be manually adjusted.

    Cons

    I do not like bad reviews from inexperienced people which obviously use OLD versions of Mozilla Firefox which are NOT SUPPORTED anymore .

    Summary

    Mozilla Firefox is the best browser if you UPDATE IT -just go to ORANGE BUTTON of its interface and click on it - then click on 'HELP' - then click on ' ABOUT FIREFOX ' -and it will update itself.

    (or you can uninstall old version and download and install the latest one from official site)

    Reply to this review

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  • 3.0 stars

    "A Decent Browser I Used To Use"

    October 6, 2012  |   By TechXpression

    Version: Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1

    Pros

    Decent speeds

    Cons

    Not fast enough
    Boxy, unattractive design
    Opening new tabs takes too long

    Summary

    This is a decent browser, but Google Chrome is a better alternative.

    Reply to this review

    Was this review helpful? (1) (1)

  • 2.0 stars

    "Used to be a favorite"

    October 4, 2012  |   By bc4321

    Version: Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1

    Pros

    There are none that remain. I use Chrome as my default now.

    Cons

    Hangs when I launch it. Takes 10-20 seconds to load a page. Hangs again if Flash is involved.

    Summary

    This machine is clean. I've tried with no addons (fresh install) and also tried with Adblock and Noscript installed. It just hangs while other browsers cruise through the same sites at light speed. Nice knowin ya Mozilla.

    Reply to this review

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  • 4.0 stars

    "too many crashes"

    October 4, 2012  |   By zhivago2

    Version: Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1

    Pros

    it's easy to use & is more secure than IE.

    Cons

    the new version crashes more.

    Summary

    Even with the crashes in this latest version I would use nothing else.

    Reply to this review

    Was this review helpful? (1) (2)

  • 5.0 stars

    "Great when it's stable ......but"

    October 1, 2012  |   By ycur

    Version: Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1

    Pros

    1. Users have a fantastic set of extensions to customize their browser.
    2. Firefox is relatively fast and secure.
    3. It works on Windows, Linux and Apple operating systems.

    Cons

    1. While the frequent release schedule brings new features it also has been the source of problems. It seems that with every new version something either breaks, becomes unstable, or there is a new incompatibility issue.
    2. Using numerous third-party extensions causes serious memory leakage. Despite recent efforts by Mozilla to combat the problem it still remains an issue.

    Summary

    Firefox is a wonderfully customizable fun to use browser, providing you are using a stable version. That's the problem. With the 18 week development and 6 week release schedules that Mozilla employs not every version they release is stable. Simply put, it's not tested enough before release, so Firefox users often suffer through periods when the browser either slows, crashes, freezes up, or that incompatibilities are encountered with the add-ons. It is profoundly disappointing when Firefox, the most used and important piece of software on my computer, starts acting weird or crashes due to Mozilla coming out with a new version.

    What do you identify Firefox with? For me it's extension add-ons. While the browser is reasonably fast and secure it's the extensions that separate Firefox from all other browsers. Oh yes, Google Chrome and Opera, to a lesser degree, have add-ons, but they pale by comparison in number and quality to those in Firefox. This is its strength. In my opinion Firefox is being over developed. It doesn't need all the features Mozilla is adding to it. A Firefox browser at its "best" would be simple, secure, stable, reasonably fast, and not have compatibility issues with its add-ons. Nothing much more is needed! With Firefox the add-ons provide the features. Mozilla doesn't see it this way. No, their design philosophy is to be another Google Chrome, in looks, speed, and in features. In pursuing these goals Mozilla has created and is perpetuating a state of instability in their product, one always in flux. If one version is stable the next could be, and often is, a god-awful mess. To illustrate what I'm saying I don't have to look any further than the v. 15.0 release. When it came out it ran well on my Window 7 operating system, but on a Linux distribution I also have on my computer it was horribly unstable to the point of being unusable. Twice a naked Firefox, one not yet burdened with extensions, became crazy unstable on freshly installed distributions. There was no trouble with the previous version and when Firefox 15.0.1 came out a week or two later the problem disappeared in total. This kind of thing happens all time. Do you think v. 15.0 was tested enough before release? I don't! For its instability I gave that version only one star.

    Why do Firefox users need a 6 week release period? Is it so important to quickly get the new features out to users that they are willing to compromise stability? Once again, I don't think so. I believe Mozilla would be much better off releasing Firefox after "cooking" the browser longer. Test it, retest it, and test it some more before anything goes final. Im not saying to go back to the time when a Firefox release could be over a year, but more time in testing is definitely necessary. That should be clear to everyone.

    Firefox could be an absolutely awesome browser if Mozilla wasn't so hell-bent
    on changing its idenity. Give it a fair turn of speed, make it stable, and leave it alone. Will Mozilla ever realize what Firefox's true idenity is? Quit trying to make it into the sleek racehorse Google is. Firefox is a work horse; hitch the plow and pile on the extensions.

    Reply to this review

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  • 1.0 stars

    "Nicely bad."

    October 1, 2012  |   By Domovoi_Butler

    Version: Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1

    Pros

    Fast browsing compared to IE9, but slower than a snail when compared to Chrome.

    Cons

    Terrible browser (being honest now).
    Horrible design, with the unattractive big orange button at the top of the browser.
    NOT eye-candy.
    Orange button distracts browsing.
    Ugly menus.
    Terrible interface.

    Summary

    Nicely Bad.

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  • 3.0 stars

    "Firefox use to be my favorite."

    September 30, 2012  |   By charliejh

    Version: Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1

    Pros

    Firefox has a clean browser and a lot of add on's plus many other neat stuff. UNTIL!

    Cons

    After a couple of days it gets slooow the same as previous versions. Also the vertical scroll will not scroll smooth but very jerky. Even tried another mouse. Went back to Chrome and now all is fine. I have a i3 Intel processor that works just fine and a system that is cleaned everyday after use. More ram than I can use. I know it doesn't make sense but it happens every time. Even tried removal and download again.

    Summary

    Mozilla please fix one version before moving to the next. Chrome needs to do the same.

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  • 5.0 stars

    "Favorite browser"

    September 27, 2012  |   By cooperbardsley

    Version: Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1

    Pros

    Cool addons and many options to personalize browsing

    Cons

    Slow when working on multiple tabs

    Summary

    overall, this browser is great.

    Reply to this review

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  • 5.0 stars

    "the best browser"

    September 23, 2012  |   By archi1989

    Version: Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1

    Pros

    easy to use and very fast

    Cons

    cons? for this browser i can say you nothing

    Reply to this review

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  • 5.0 stars

    "Great Product!!"

    September 23, 2012  |   By fruitybutt

    Version: Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1

    Pros

    I love it!! use nothing else but

    Cons

    I have No cons!!

    Reply to this review

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Results 1-10 of 28

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