Mozilla unveils search tool tweaks in next week's Firefox 34

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New tools will accompany change from Google to Yahoo as default search engine for U.S. customers

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Along with its impending switch to Yahoo as the default search engine for Firefox, Mozilla will also change how users conduct searches in the browser, the company said Tuesday.

Searches done in the next version of Firefox will display not only a list of suggested searches that narrow the results, but will show buttons for search engines other than the default, said Philipp Sackl, a lead designer of Firefox, in a blog post yesterday.

"These buttons allow you to find your search term directly on a specific site quickly and easily," Sackl wrote.

For example, a search for "US Grant" started in Firefox's default search engine can be switched to Wikipedia for results there by clicking a button.

Mozilla has implemented the changes in the beta of Firefox 34, which is scheduled for promotion to the finished, polished build next week. In the beta, Firefox 34 shows search-switch buttons for all available providers, including Bing, DuckDuckGo, Twitter and Wikipedia. Users can also add additional search engines.

Other browsers, such as Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari, lack similar tools, although Safari does offer a short list of suggested searches when a string is typed into its address bar.

Mozilla will introduce the search tweaks next week when it ships the production version of Firefox 34, currently slated for a Dec. 1 release. At the same time, Mozilla will also introduce Yahoo as the default search engine in the U.S.

"Under a new five-year strategic partnership ... Yahoo Search will become the default search experience for Firefox in the U.S.," Mozilla CEO Chris Beard said last week.

Beard's description implied that Mozilla will automatically change the default search engine within Firefox from the earlier Google to Yahoo for all U.S. customers. But in the beta of Firefox 34 the previous default -- Google -- remained in place.

Mozilla may face resistance from existing users if it changes the search engine to Yahoo without their permission when Firefox updates itself next week. Firefox users will be able to change the default to another provider, including back to Google, however.

Mozilla did not immediately reply to questions about how it will handle the change from Google to Yahoo within Firefox.

Firefox, unlike its browser rivals, will continue to use separate search and address bars rather than unify them into one field where users can type not only URLs but also search strings. Safari, Chrome and Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) all offer a unified address-search bar.

"That has been looked at several times, but there are difficult privacy problems to overcome if you also want to provide search suggestions," said Gervase Markham of Mozilla in an answer Wednesday to a user's comment appended to Sackl's post. "If someone is typing a URL, they don't necessarily want their default search engine to know where they are going. And yet, if you want to provide search suggestions well, you have to send every keystroke in a unified box to the search provider."

Firefox 34 search changes

Firefox 34, set for release next week, will include new search tools, including one that lets users change search providers on the fly.

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