Firefox 4 beta 1 is a smart-looking, snappy performer

With greater speed, a sleek new interface and a few tricks up its sleeve, Firefox 4 may be on track to regain the browser crown.

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Far better would be if you could tell Firefox you wanted to search across all tabs with your current search, and those results would show up at the top of the list. Another possibility would be allowing you to set options about which results show up at the top when you type text into the Awesome Bar. Perhaps we can hope for a feature like that in the next beta.

Add-Ons Manager

The Add-Ons Manager has been given a facelift, and it's a very useful one. The previous version opened in a small window that merely listed your add-ons, with options to enable, disable, uninstall or customize them if they allow for customization.

The new manager opens in a full window and gives you far more information about each add-on, including a rating taken from the Firefox add-ons Web site, the date the add-on was installed and a link to the add-on's home page.

Add-On Manager in Firefox 4 beta 1
The Add-Ons Manager in Firefox 4 gets more screen real estate and displays more details about each add-on than in the previous version.

It also is supposed to show the size of the add-on, although that doesn't appear to work in the beta, which was not able to display the size of any of mine.

When you remove an add-on, the listing for it disappears and a yellow bar appears, telling you that the add-on has been removed and asking if you want to undo the removal. To undo the removal, click the Undo button. In this beta, I was unable to get the Undo button to work; clicking it did nothing. As with the existing Add-Ons Manager, you can also find new add-ons, get themes and view and manage your plug-ins.

By the way, you'll likely find that although your currently installed add-ons are listed on the page, few if any of them will actually work with this Firefox beta. And when you click the Get Add-Ons tab in order to search for add-ons, you're brought to a page that tells you "Something good is coming!" So clearly Mozilla has plans for a new add-ons Web site that is not yet publicly available.

HTML 5

As with current versions of Chrome and Safari, and the upcoming Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 4 supports HTML 5 video, which lets you play high-definition video content directly in the browser itself, without having to use any additional applications such as Flash.

This beta supports HTML 5 video with a twist, however, by using the Google-backed video format called WebM, which uses the open-source VP8 code, rather than the H.264 codec used by competing browsers. (Oddly enough, even the latest official release of Chrome doesn't yet support WebM, although the version in the developer channel does.)

HTML5 video being played in Firefox 4 beta 1
Firefox 4 playing an HD HTML 5 video on YouTube.

In my tests, the browser played the HTML 5 videos as promised. Given that there is not yet a great deal of video content that uses HTML 5, this is not particularly important right now, although an increasing number of YouTube videos are available via HTML 5.

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