Firefox 71 & 72 - Some of that old fire is back

Updated: January 13, 2019

Strange how things work. Apparently, people rarely learn unless they go through an experience personally, and often, even not then. Companies and organizations are much alike, so when Mozilla embarked on its Firefox revamp many years ago, it went after Chrome, and it trying to be like Chrome only made Chrome better.

Fast forward, Mozilla re-discovered the meaning behind its motto, and figured that it has a golden opportunity of making its browser stand out. People are sick of getting their private info trafficked left and right by careless data vampires, and they want something ... more humane. Recent versions of Firefox seem to be doing quite all right on that front, and the last two or three releases are a great example of a champion effort. Let's see.

About, teaser

Savior of the universe

When I reviewed Firefox 70 not that long ago, and found it quite good. Reasonable. And I've been also using it as my primary browser on Android, Moto G6 (and other devices). Coupled with an adblocker, it gives you speed, peace of mind and a nice, elegant battery life increase. Now, despite its silly games, I never abandoned Firefox. I've always thought it was the least annoying of all browsers out there, and this state of affair remains in 2020.

In fact, it's becoming better and nicer, and it's no longer just a question of lesser evil. It's even ... enjoyable. All of that to one simple thing: By all means, you should use Firefox, because the future of the Web depends on it remaining a valid, strong player on the browser market. If you feel like you haven't been molested enough by the data pillaging hordes on the Web, the current reality is a silk-wrapped dream of euphoria compared to what the Internet will look like if Firefox vanishes.

OK, so what's new in Firefox 71 & 72?

A fair deal. And most of it focuses on privacy, as expected, but not all. The biggest improvements come in Firefox 72, including native MP3 encoding on all platforms, Picture-in-Picture on all platforms, enhanced security and privacy notifications; now, there's another category - fingerprinters. You can have Firefox block pesky scripts and nonsense online ever more thoroughly than before. Of course, this goes hand-in-hand, like that picture thingie, only different, with more aggressive advertising. More on that in a jiffy.

Picture-in-Picture

I'm not 100% sure why this is useful, but I guess the new-age people like to do things in a semi-distracted mode, so they can watch something without looking, while doing something else. Go figure. In Firefox 71, PIP was only available in Windows - and version 72 brings it to other platforms, as well.

Picture-in-Picture, Linux

Privacy, tracking protection

Firefox introduces additional controls against online tracking - fingerprinting - which is a generic category for all sorts of methods used by websites out there to try to figure out who you are, and then somehow alter the information you get to maximize profits.

Privacy options

Tracking protection

This is quite commendable. And apparently effective, because recently, there's been a whole new breed of ads come live, designed to work around existing tools. For example, you can disable autoplay for all media through the about:config page. Except ... HTML5 videos wrapped in scripts will still play regardless. So this is one example of the constant battle between users who want to protect their privacy and companies who want to get them to see pointless ads no matter what.

This means that using Firefox's native playback functionality control isn't enough at the moment. For example, uBlock will typically filter out most if not all script-wrapped HTML5 video ads, whereas Adblock Plus occasionally does need an extra custom rule to get these removed. I hope Firefox 73 or whatnot will be able to give users the expected quiet, if they decide to disable media autoplay.

Password management & Lockwise

Firefox does quite a few things in this regard, but I think the workflow is a bit over-enthusiastic. Firefox comes with its own login and password manager called Lockwise. But then, if you want to use it, you also need to configure Firefox Sync. Or not. I'm not sure, but this looks a bit hectic.

Lockwise

Furthermore, if you decide to use a certain password, Firefox can now check whether it's been used, reused or found as part of any data breaches by quering the Have I Been Pwned online list. This is similar to you doing a manual query on the website, whereby your plaintext string is first hashed and then uploaded and checked. You can disable this in Firefox preferences, if you don't like the concept.

Logins and passwords, preferences

Some visual polish

There's also a new, more "glamorous" about:config page. Spacier arrangement. The options are the same. Maybe this makes it easier to work and edit settings, but then, this is nerdy territory anyway, so perhaps the change isn't necessary at all.

New about config page

Conclusion

Firefox 71 & 72 are a right step in the right direction. Mozilla does not have the strategic financial depth to go head to head with the giants out there - and it does not need to. The attempt to ever try that, or worse, assimilate a similar business model, had been a mistake that had cost it many a loyal user, big chunks or market share, and a loss of identity. But now, it's slowly yet surely coming back. Not an easy thing, but it seems to be working.

I don't have enough data to fully validate my claim - that will take another six months to a year, but the general impression I get by sampling what the Web has to say shows that even the casual users, not just us hardcore geeks, are exhibiting an inkling of understanding that they might care about their data, and they do want to have some semblance of control. Not a lot, but enough that the word Firefox is seen again, in positive light. Especially when it comes down to: you can't do that in X, but you CAN in Firefox. This has been happening more lately, with privacy in particular, and it's a good sign. Indeed, the recent versions of the browser do come with some nice, solid perks and features for the end user. Just like the good old times.

Cheers.

You may also like: