Firefox 4 Beta 9 Hits the Web

The latest beta of Firefox 4 — beta 9 for those of you counting at home — is now available to download.

The latest beta version of the venerable web browser features faster start-up, improved bookmarking and history functions and smoother complex animations. The Firefox team released the first Firefox 4 Beta back in July. The final 4.0 release is expected as early as next month.

The release notes for Firefox 4 Beta 9 are pretty sparse, which may indicate that major bugs notwithstanding, the next version offered might be a release candidate.

A few tightened user interface tweaks aside, Firefox 4 looks largely the same as it has the last few releases.

One of the issues that has prevented me from using previous Firefox 4 Beta releases on my main computer has been the lack of support for certain plugins and add-ons. With each release, developers are updating their wares for better compatibility, but there are still a few standouts (like Firebug) that aren’t yet supported.

Those quibbles aside, the new Firefox is significantly faster than its predecessors. Over Christmas, I installed Firefox 4 Beta 8 on my MacBook Pro and was impressed at the improvements in speed and performance. What little time I have spent with Beta 9 on my iMac indicates that the speed increases have continued.

One note for Mac users — if you are running Mac OS X 10.6, it’s likely that Netflix will not work in this release. There is a conflict between the 32-bit Silverlight plugin and the 64-bit Firefox 4. Use Chrome or Safari instead if you don’t want to go back to Firefox 3.6.x.

Firefox 4 is an important release for Mozilla. The open source browser may have surpassed IE in usage share in Europe, but it’s facing increased competition on all fronts. Google’s Chrome browser is approaching 10% market share and Microsoft is coming on strong with IE 9.

Moreover, the modern mobile browsing space — which is largely dominated by WebKit — is gaining in importance. Getting out a solid version of Firefox for the desktop and the mobile is crucial for Mozilla.

If you want to do your part to help, you can download the latest Firefox 4 Beta and put it through the paces. The new Feedback button makes it easy to report any problems or crashes and you can take the new interface for a test drive if you haven’t already.

What are your thoughts on Firefox 4 Beta 9? Let us know in the comments.

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