Firefox Goes Private, Kills Fancy Tab Switching

By  |  Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 9:10 am

firefoxlock1The Mozilla folks have released beta 2 of Firefox 3.1, the next version of the world’s favorite open-source Web browser. It includes a bunch of technical refinements and fixes, and one significant new feature: private browsing. And it removes one feature from beta 1 which I kinda liked.

Mozilla’s implementation of Private browsing (which Apple’s Safari already has and which is also in Google’s Chrome beta and Microsoft’s upcoming Internet Explorer 8) couldn’t be much more straightforward. It’s a new option in the Tools menu:


Choose it, and you get this page:


Like the text above says, Private Browsing eliminates all the traces you’d otherwise leave of your Web wanderings: They won’t show up in Firefox’s history; searches and downloads aren’t kept in their respective histories; and Web form data, cookies, and temporary Internet files aren’t preserved. (When you leave Private Browsing mode, Firefox returns to normal operation and restores whatever tabs were open when you entered it.)

The browser’s dialog for clearing your history has undergone some related changes: You can now restrict the data you clear to stuff collected in the past hour, two hours, four hours, or day. It’s effectively a form of retroactive private browsing:


So what’s Private Browsing good for? Mozilla thoughtfully suggests you use it when doing online holiday shopping for family members. It’s also handy whenever you use someone else’s computer and log into e-mail or other services such as Facebook, since it prevents the browser from relogging your buddy into your accounts later on. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to use it whenever you’re at a public computer that’s running Firefox 3.1.

But I refuse to demean Private Browsing by calling it “porn mode.”

As for the feature which was new in beta 1 and is now gone in beta 2, it’s the flashy pop-up thumbnails that let you shuffle through open tabs in much the same way that both Windows and OS X let you tab through apps.


Mozilla says it removed it “based on feedback from Beta 1 users.” (<Ctrl><Tab> still lets you move from tab to tab, but without a preview.) I’m mourning the new approach to tab-switching’s loss, and I’m not sure what the beta testers disliked about it. Or, for that matter, whether its absence is permanent, or temporary while Mozilla tweaks it.

Anyhow, it’s still exciting to see Firefox 3.1 near completion. As I mentioned in this recap of all the Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera, and Safari betas, 2009 is going to be a great year for browser fans.


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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Dave Barnes Says:

    I am confused.
    “Porn mode” seems to define it best.

  2. Manish Says:

    Kinda funny I think…I seem to agree with Dave though.
    But still I think private browsing could be helpful in other ways too

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