Mozilla upgraded its developer's edition of Firefox today to version 8, including changing how forced third-party add-ons are handled and debuting a series of under-the-hood tweaks that continue a renewed assault on performance gains made in Firefox 7 Beta. Firefox 8 Aurora can be downloaded for Windows, Mac and Linux, and it marks the first release of Aurora for Android.
Two add-on changes were revealed last week that represent, for the first time in possibly years, that Mozilla has forced changes on how third-party programs and Firefox interact. Basically, Mozilla is disabling the ability of a third-party program, like security suites, to forcibly install add-ons without user permission. The change comes in two parts: one automatically disables those add-ons, and when you start Firefox after the add-on has been installed for the first time, a notification window prompts users to either activate the add-on or ignore it.
The second feature kicks in the first time Firefox runs after upgrading to version 8. It goes through your add-ons and sorts them into two categories: ones you've installed, and add-ons from third-party programs. All active add-ons that you have installed will be kept active, while all third-party add-ons will be deactivated unless you choose to reactivate them. As an additional level of protection against unwanted deactivation, the feature will offer a confirmation list of the add-ons you want killed.
The company continues to develop its Firefox channels into separate beasts. Aurora 8 debuts a light-blue button color to help distinguish from the Nightly build, which has a deep blue button, and the stable build's orange button. More important than that aesthetic tweak are changes to provide better icons when dragging and reordering tabs, and a new choice in the Options menu to load tabs only on demand. This will let people who have many tabs open start the browser faster.
In Windows, the option is available in the General tab of the Options menu. On Macs, go to the Aurora menu, then Preferences, then General, and check "Don't load tabs until selected."
Under the hood, Mozilla continues to work on its flagship product. How the browser creates threads for HTML5 media elements has been changed, which will allow for a large number of media calls without killing the browser, and a new media APIs sees support to improve the overall performance of video and audio in the browser. Newer HTML5 standards will work in Aurora 8, including the crossorigin and insertAdjacentHTML attributes, as well as native right-click menus via HTML5. There's been a WebSocket update to the latest APIs, and a security tweak forces WebGL textures to use CORS.
Two notable changes have also landed in the new Firefox 8 Aurora for Android. The first creates the option of a master password, for one-password entry when browsing. This is available under the Privacy and Security section of the Preferences tab. You also can add Firefox bookmarks directly to your home screen in the new build.
While Mozilla continues to push ahead with its rapid release cycle, and face opposition from a vocal minority of fans that Google didn't encounter when it moved Chrome to rapid release, it is also beginning to look at changing how version numbers are counted. One blog post proposes ditching the current whole-number format and counting major versions released in a single year. For example, the fifth major release in a particular calendar year would be "Firefox 2011.5".