Mozilla Taiwan releases Firefox Lite 2.0 for Android

Mozilla has created several Android web browsers in the recent past: from classic Firefox and Firefox Preview to Firefox Focus and Firefox Lite.

Firefox Lite 1.0 was released last year by Mozilla Taiwan; it is a mobile browser that, besides its name, does not have much in common with Firefox for Android (or the desktop).

The browser uses Chromium WebView and not Mozilla’s own rendering engine to display websites. One advantage of that is that it is very lightweight (roughly 5 Megabytes) in comparison. Firefox Lite’s availability is limited to several regions in Asia. Users from other regions may download the APK file from mirror sites such as APK Pure to install it on their devices. The installation itself is not restricted.

Some functionality, e.g. the display of coupons and deals, is limited to certain geographic regions such as India or Indonesia.

firefox lite 2.0

Firefox Lite 2.0 improves the mobile browser in several meaningful ways. The main idea of the browser, to create a lightweight mobile browser with a focus on privacy and the saving of data. The browser’s Turbo Mode is activated by default; it blocks known trackers and most of the advertising on the Internet which in turn reduces the amount of data that needs to be transferred to display websites in the browser.

Firefox Lite offers no controls to manage the blocking other than turning Turbo Mode on or off. While it does reduce the time it takes to load sites that display advertisement, it offers no option to add trackers to the list or whitelist sites.

The browser uses Google as the default search engine but there is an option in the settings to change it to DuckDuckGo. It does not seem possible to add other search engines to it though. As far as settings are concerned, you may want to disable the sending of usage data to Mozilla while you are there.

The browser displays several controls when you tap on the settings icon in the main interface. It features an option to block the loading of images which will further speed up the loading of sites. Firefox Lite users may also capture entire webpages using the built-in screenshot tool designed to provide read-only access to these webpages even when offline.

The homepage of the browser is divided into two main parts. The main area links to news and gaming sections, the lower speed dial pane to 15 websites. Custom sites may be added to the section and a long-tap on any of the 15 sites displays options to remove it from the listing.

The news interface divides news into different sections such as world, business or technology. The interface itself lists titles, the source and the time it has been released only; a tap opens the original source in the browser.

The gaming interface lists several game categories on start but a tap on a game loads the game right away on the device. A long-tap on a game displays options to pin it to the home screen for quick access.

A shopping icon is placed prominently next to the search/address bar in Firefox Lite 2.0. A click opens the browser’s Smart Shopping Search which redirects to a special tabbed-interface of the browser to look at results on Google, eBay, Amazon, and other sites.

Closing Words

Firefox Lite 2.0 is a lightweight browser for Android that is designed to eliminate most of the tracking and advertisement on the Internet. The browser has a handful of interesting features, e.g. the screenshot functionality that is built-in, but lacks customization options.

Additionally, it has little in common with the main Firefox browser for Android other than its name and the fact that it is developed by Mozilla Taiwan.

Now You: What is your take on Firefox Lite? (via Sören Hentzschel)

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Firefox 72: dynamic scrollbars based on page color

Mozilla plans to adapt the color of the scrollbar in the Firefox web browser to the background color of the visited webpage in Firefox 72.

Dark themes are en vogue currently; operating systems, web browsers, and other applications get dark theme options that users may enable to switch from the previously favored light design to a black design.

For many, it seems like a personal preference more than anything else, but dark themes offer some advantages over lighter themes including better battery performance on mobile devices.

Firefox users may enable a dark theme in the browser on the Menu > Customize page of the web browser; this paints the browser UI in darker colors. Certain websites, e.g. DuckDuckGo or Startpage, support dark themes as well that users may enable.

One of the issues that Firefox users experienced with dark themed sites in the browser was that the scrollbar area was not adapted accordingly.

firefox adaptive scrollbar color

The scrollbar used a light design regardless of website or selected Firefox theme; this felt distracting to many users. Some used custom CSS styles to paint scrollbars in a dark color, others endured the light area on websites visited in the Firefox web browser.

Starting with Firefox 72, Firefox will adapt the color of the scrollbar based on the background color of the visited page. Users of the browser who prefer a darker theme will notice that the color of the scrollbar area shines in a darker color as well and that page position indicator is darker than before as well.

The screenshot above highlights the change. The window on top shows the new scrollbar color scheme on the dark homepage of the search engine DuckDuckGo.

Sites that don’t use standards when it comes to dark themes or modes may not show the correct scrollbar colors after all; this is the case for Reddit which, according to a comment on the official bug listing on Mozilla’s bug tracking site, sets the dark background “on a child element of the scrollable container” so that Firefox cannot detect the dark theme usage.

Firefox 72 Stable will be released on January 7, 2020 according to the release schedule.

Now You: Do you prefer light or dark themes in your applications / on websites?

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Firefox 71: new about:config interface lands

Mozilla plans to launch the redesigned about:config interface in Firefox 71, the next stable version of the web browser.

The internal page about:config provides Firefox users with access to an advanced set of configuration parameters. The regular options, accessible via Firefox Menu > Options, list only a small fraction of available configuration options.

Tip: check out the Ghacks user.js project to find out more about many of the advanced parameters.

The pre-Firefox 71 about:config interface is based on XUL, a language that Mozilla deprecated some time ago in favor of web standards such as HMTL5 and JavaScript. The new interface is based on JavaScript and HTML, and will be launched in Firefox 71 Stable if the schedule holds.

firefox 71 about config new

We looked at the first version of the new interface back in January 2019 and noticed back then that some functionality was missing when compared to the classic about:config interface. To name a few: no deep linking, no sorting, no listing of all preferences, no double-click actions, and less items per page than previously.

The final version addresses some of the issues but not all. The final version of the interface supports double-click actions and the display of all preferences that are visible (use * in the search field). Users may also discard changes with a tap on the Esc-key.

Some issues, including the removal of deep links and sorting, remain, and Mozilla announced previously  that it won’t fix those. A quick scan of the Ghacks database returned 48 articles with deep links to Firefox preferences. The instructions won’t work anymore when the changed interface lands. While users may look at the filter url to search for the preference name manually, it is far from ideal considering that we are just one website that used the deep linking option to point to about:config preferences directly.

Mozilla’s initial plan was to release the redesigned interface in Firefox 67 but things got delayed along the way. The organization plans to launch the redesigned interface in Firefox 71. The web browser is scheduled for a release on December 3, 2019 according to the release schedule.

Closing words

Mozilla addressed some of the issues of the redesigned about:config interface and it seems to have concentrated its efforts on the issues that would have affected the most number of users. It is unfortunate that some features won’t be supported; sorting was useful as you could use it to list all modified preferences easily on the screen among other things.

Now You: do you use about:config? What is your take on the change? (Via Sören Hentzschel)

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Mozilla bans all extensions that execute remote code

Mozilla added a number of extensions for the Firefox web browser that execute code remotely to the organization’s blocklist in the beginning of November.

The bugzilla listing shows only IDs of the extensions and (almost) no names but the move appears to have affected several translation add-ons for the browser that injected Google Translate or Bing Translate code into websites to provide users of the web browser with page translation functionality.

The developers of Page Translator and Google Translate this page revealed recently that their extensions were banned by Mozilla. Several other translator extensions, Babelfox, Google Translate Element or Bridge Translate seem to be affected by the ban as well.

mozilla block addons

The developer of Page Translator offers insights into what happened in the past couple of days. The extension used Google Translate or Microsoft Translator libraries to provide Firefox users with in-line language translation capabilities. It downloaded the JavaScript file and injected it into pages to provide on-page translations.

Mozilla disallowed execution of external remote code for listed extensions for some time. Extensions listed on AMO were not allowed to execute remote code; the same was not true in all cases for self-hosted, read unlisted, extensions.

The developer had the extension removed from AMO when Mozilla made the initial policy change but did offer it as an unlisted add-on to users. According to him, the extension was used by thousands of users who used it to translate pages in Firefox.

Mozilla put the extension on a blacklist which killed it remotely in all Firefox installations that did not have the blacklisting functionality disabled.

An exchange with a Mozilla representative confirmed Mozilla’s stance on the matter.

I’ve read your article, but unfortunately this is not a restriction we will be lifting.

If you find a way to provide this feature in compliance with our policies, we’d be willing to lift the block in a way that you could submit a new version for your users.

Where does that leave Firefox users?

There are still add-ons available for Firefox that offer translation functionality and these may work for users of the browser. None of these appear to support the on-page translation of the entire page though and that puts Firefox at a severe disadvantage when compared to Chrome or Edge which both support the feature natively.

Mozilla announced some time ago that it is working on integrating translate functionality natively in the browser but it will take some time before the first implementation becomes available in Stable versions of the web browser.

Another option that Firefox users have is to install userscripts in the browser as these are not subject to the same limitation as add-ons.

Closing Words

Mozilla’s stance is clear: it does not want any extensions to execute remote code anymore because of potential security or privacy implications.

Extension developers were caught off-guard as it appears that no communication took place prior to the execution of the ban.

Now You: What is your take on this?

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Firefox will hide push notification requests by default

From next year on, Firefox will hide push notification requests from websites by default. Websites may use the Notifications API to displays notifications to users of the web browser, even if the site in question has been closed in the meantime.

Designed to give sites and progressive web applications an option to inform users about updates, it soon started to be abused by numerous sites. Mozilla ran an experiment in 2019 to determine how users of the Firefox web browser interacted with these notification requests.

firefox block notifications by default

One of the main issue with notification prompts is that many sites display them the moment a user visits it, another that the prompt requires action on part of the user. Users who never visited a site before cannot possibly know whether they would like to receive notifications from a site they know little about.

According to the study — as reported by ZDNet — 97% of users who participated in the study dismissed notifications immediately or went a step further and decided to block the site from showing notifications at all.

Firefox users may block all notification prompts already in the browser. Mozilla implemented an option in Firefox 59 to block all notification prompts in the browser. Users need to load about:preferences#privacy in the browser’s address bar, scroll down to the permissions section, click on settings next to notifications, and check the “Block new requests asking to allow notifications”.

firefox block notifications

Starting in Firefox 72, Firefox will no longer show notification prompts when websites want to use the notifications API. Firefox adds a new icon to the browser’s address bar when a site requests notification access but the prompt that asks users to allow or deny the request won’t be shown anymore.

Firefox users may click on the notification icon in the address bar to display the prompt and allow or deny notifications for that particular site.

The change landed in the most recent version of Firefox Nightly already. Mozilla is still working on the implementation and users may experience bugs in the development versions of Firefox as a consequence.

Firefox 72 is scheduled to be released on January 7, 2020.

Closing Words

As is the case with most new technologies and features implemented in browsers, they may be used for good and bad. Notifications has been abused in particular, thanks to the easy implementation, and it was about time that browser makers started to react to this.

While it has been possible to block all notifications in Firefox for a long time, it is probably not something that most users of the browser have been aware of.

The suppression of notification prompts will reduce annoying notification prompts significantly without removing the functionality entirely.

Now You: Have you ever accepted a notification request?

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Firefox 74: sideloading extension support ends

Mozilla announced this week that the organization’s Firefox web browser will stop supporting extension sideloading in Firefox 74.

Current versions of the Firefox web browser support three different methods when it comes to the installation of extensions:

  1. Install via Mozilla’s official add-ons repository Mozilla AMO.
  2. Use Firefox’s “Install add-on from file” functionality in the Add-ons Manager. To use it, load about:addons in the Firefox address bar and select Menu > Install Add-on from File. Select the Firefox extension using the file browser that opens to start the installation dialog.
  3. Place extension files into standard extension folders.

The change removes the third option but does not touch the other two options.  The third method caused issues frequently for Firefox users according to Mozilla as these extensions were not installed directly by users of the browser and could not be removed from the add-ons manager either.

firefox install local extensions

While sideloading has been used by legitimate developers to test Firefox installations and organizations to deploy extensions on systems, it has also been abused in the past, e.g. to install malicious extensions in Firefox.

Mozilla plans to remove support in Firefox 74. Here is the full timeline (see our release schedule for Firefox for additional information):

  • Firefox 73 (out February 11, 2020) — Sideloaded extensions will be copied to the user’s profile and installed as regular add-ons.
  • Firefox 74 (out March 10, 2020) — Sideloading is no longer supported

The change in Firefox 73 ensures that installed extensions won’t be removed without recourse. Firefox users find these extensions in the built-in extension manager from where they may be removed just like any other extension installed in the web browser. Firefox users may remove these extensions then from the web browser in case they have no intention of using them.

Closing Words

Organizations who use sideloading currently need to use different options to install Firefox extensions, e.g. by using the Windows Registry. The options are explained here.

Firefox users will benefit from the change as it removes an option that has been abused by malicious actors and also some software companies in the past to install extensions in Firefox.

Firefox users and developers will still be able to install extensions in the browser that are stored locally.

Now You: Do you use extensions that you installed locally in Firefox?

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Mozilla Firefox 70.0.1 release information

Mozilla released Firefox 70.0.1 on October 31, 2019 to the web browser’s stable channel. The new Firefox version addresses several issues including a major issue that caused some pages or page elements to fail to load in the browser.

Firefox 70.0.1 should be offered to users of the browser automatically thanks to the web browser’s built-in automatic updating system. Firefox users may speed up the upgrade by selecting Menu > Help > About Firefox.

Firefox displays the current version of the browser in a popup on the screen and queries Mozilla servers to find out if an update is available. The update is downloaded and installed automatically on most machines if it is discovered.

The new version can also be downloaded from the official Mozilla website directly.

Firefox 70.0.1

The official Firefox 70.0.1 release notes list three issues that have been fixed.

The main issue addresses the page load issue in Firefox 70.0 that Mozilla detected after the release of the web browser to the stable channel. Some websites and web pages would fail to load under certain circumstances.

We described the issue in detail on October 29, 2019. According to Mozilla, the issue affected sites like YouTube or Facebook that use dynamic JavaScript but only for some users. It is caused by a new storage implementation in Firefox 70 called LSNG and the workaround suggested to disable the new storage implementation to resolve the issue.

The release of Firefox 70.0.1 fixes the issue; Firefox users who applied the workaround on their machines may undo it by setting the preference dom.storage.next_gen to TRUE on about:config.

The two other issues that Firefox 70.0.1 fixes are the following ones:

  • Addresses an issue that prevented the title bar from being displayed in the browser’s full screen view (on Mac OS). (see Bug 1588747)
  • Updated the OpenH264 video plugin for Mac OS X 10.15 users. (see Bug 1587543 )

Closing Words

Mozilla released a patch relatively quickly after becoming aware of the page load issue in the new version of Firefox. Firefox users who experience the issue are encouraged to update their browser to the new version to resolve it.

Now You: Were you affected by the issue?

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Firefox 70 not loading some pages or elements? Here is a fix

Firefox 70 has an issue currently that prevents some pages or page elements from being loaded under certain circumstances. Mozilla added the known issue to the Firefox 70.0 release notes stating that some “websites or page elements using dynamic JavaScript fail to load”.

The release notes link to a support article on the Mozilla website that provides a workaround for the issue and more context.

According to the article, sites like YouTube or Facebook that use dynamic JavaScript may be affected by this. Mozilla created a test page for the issue that Firefox users may open in the web browser to find out if their version of the browser is affected.

Just point the web browser to this page and check the status that is returned for the tested subsystems.

firefox 70 load issue

If you see “good: totally working” Firefox should not be affected by the issue; if you see something else, e.g. “investigating. If this doesn’t go away, things are unexpected broken”, it may be affected and you may want to use the workaround to mitigate the issue until Mozilla releases a permanent fix.

The bug report on Mozilla’s bugzilla bug tracking website suggests that the issue affects old profiles but not newly created profiles. The issue seems to be caused by a new storage implementation in Firefox 70 that Mozilla calls LSNG (Local Storage Next Generation).

Fixing the page loading issue

firefox storage

Firefox users who are affected by the issue may mitigate it in the following way:

  1. Load about:config in the web browser’s address bar.
  2. Confirm that you will be careful by selecting “I accept the risk” on the page that opens.
  3. Search for dom.storage.next_gen.
  4. Set the preference to False.

Reload the affected webpage in the Firefox web browser to see if the change resolves the issue. The only other option available is to create a new user profile and use it instead of the old one.

Firefox users who are not affected by the issue don’t need to do anything at this point. Mozilla has no ETA on a fix but it is likely that a fix is going to be pushed out very soon considering that it affects profiles and lots of popular sites on the Internet.

Now You: did you notice load issues in Firefox? (via Techdows)

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A look at Firefox's upcoming Picture-in-Picture mode

Mozilla revealed that it was working on a Picture-in-Picture mode for the Firefox web browser back in February. Designed to play videos in a small overlay on the screen, Picture-in-Picture mode allows users of the browser to navigate between tabs and sites without interfering with the playing video using the detached video player.

The original plan was to introduce the mode in Firefox 68 but development has been delayed. Current plans aim for a release in the next stable Windows version of the Firefox web browser, Firefox 71. Firefox 71 will be released on December 3, 2019 if the schedule does not change. Linux and Mac versions of Firefox may see a release in Firefox 72 which will be released on January 7, 2020.

Note: The Firefox preference media.videocontrols.picture-in-picture.enabled determines whether Picture-in-Picture mode is enabled. Firefox users may enable the feature already in the browser (there may still be bugs).

Firefox Picture-in-Picture mode

firefox picture-in-picture

Firefox adds a small blue icon to supported videos that displays “Picture-in-Picture” when hovered over.

A click on the icon opens the video in the Picture-in-Picture interface and displays a placeholder on the original site. It reads “This video is playing in Picture-in-Picture mode”. A right-click may also display the option to load the video in Picture-in-Picture mode.

firefox pip mode

The Picture-in-Picture overlay can be moved around on the screen independently and also resized. The interface is not entirely independent but you may change tabs and use the browser normally.

The only thing that affects the video is the tab it originated on. If you reload it or navigate away, the video is closed automatically.

The Picture-in-Picture interface is bare bones. It features a play/pause toggle button and another for restoring the video in its original location in Firefox. The only other option that is provided is to close the Picture-in-Picture interface by activating the close button.

Controls, e.g. to change the volume of the video, change the quality or make other changes, are missing. It is possible to use the controls on the video’s original site, e.g. to use the slider to jump to a different position or to change the volume.

Here is an overview of all Picture-in-Picture preferences in Firefox:

  • media.videocontrols.picture-in-picture.enabled — The main preference to enable or disable the feature.
  • media.videocontrols.picture-in-picture.video-toggle.always-show — Determines whether the PIP icon is shown always (Firefox does not show it for certain videos, e.g. those without an audio track or that are too small in size).
  • media.videocontrols.picture-in-picture.video-toggle.enabled — Whether to show the toggle to enable PIP mode in Firefox.
  • media.videocontrols.picture-in-picture.video-toggle.flyout-enabled — Animation when activating the mode.
  • media.videocontrols.picture-in-picture.video-toggle.flyout-wait-ms — Wait time for flyout mode.

Closing words

The main benefit of using Picture-in-Picture mode is that users may watch the video unhindered while doing something else in the browser. The PIP window is set to be on top which means that it remains visible even if you navigate to another tab.

Firefox users who like to watch videos while doing something else in the browser may find the mode useful the most. Some Firefox users may prefer to play videos in a second browser window, especially if the display offers enough room to display two windows on the screen.

Now You: What is your take on Picture-in-Picture mode?

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Search for webpages in your history and bookmarks efficiently with the Memex extension for Firefox and Chrome

Memex is an interesting web browser add-on that is designed specifically for powerusers. Before you ask, no it’s not a meme generator.

It is a Vannevar Bush inspired bookmarking/local search engine of sorts that you can use to quickly find webpages that you visited in the past. The extension is available for Firefox and Chrome.

Search for webpages in your history and bookmarks efficiently with the Memex extension for Firefox and Chrome

When you install the add-on, it may appear to be requesting a scary amount of permissions. But they are required for Memex to work. The extension has a visual tutorial which explains how it works; the GIFs that it uses are a bit too speedy for my liking.

Once you have installed the add-on, click on its icon (the brain) to bring up a menu and get a few options here. The go to dashboard takes you to the main interface of the extension and the main way you make use of its functionality.

Memex extension for Firefox and Chrome

Memex indexes pages to make search more powerful in the browser. You need to remember that it saves only the content of individual pages; it is not enough to bookmark the homepage of a site, e.g. Ghacks, to get all articles indexed.

The add-on comes with a handy import feature to import pages from the browsing history.

For now let’s go back to the menu. The “Star this page” option is similar to bookmarking but adds the page to Memex’s database, and tags are used to identify starred pages quickly. Just select a page and tag it with a relevant word and it will become usable, or should I say searchable by Memex. You can add multiple tags for a page and collections are like folders to improve organization of webpages.

Another way to use these options

By default, Memex should add a sidebar and it should be visible when you mouse over to the right edge of the screen. There are buttons here that let you open Memex’s dashboard, perform a search, star pages, add tags and perform other actions.

Memex sidebar

There is one important feature which is present in the sidebar which is not in the menu: Notes. The name is a bit misleading as it is an annotation tool. Memex allows you to annotate on any web page. To do so, click the notes icon and type something. For e.g. If you’re an Amazon page, you could type something like “This could be an interesting gift for Max’s birthday.” So, you’ll remember why you saved the page and why.

You can also highlight text content like you would do with a marker. If you have used Microsoft Edge you may be familiar with these options. When you select text on a web-page, a tooltip should appear and you can use it to link to the highlighted text for reference. When you click on it in the dashboard, you will be taken to the page with the highlighted content visible.

Memex also supports keyboard shortcuts.

  • Sidebar – r
  • Star Page  – c
  • Add tag – t
  • Add to collections – u

Let’s star a page, tag it and add it to a collection to demonstrate how this all works and how it benefits you. Say, you want to add the Ghacks homepage to the database. You can visit the page and click on the star icon to bookmark it in Memex. Click on the tag button to add a tag, like Windows Software, Linux apps, or technology. The collection button can be used to add the page to a folder like Tech or Blogs.

Note: I found the sidebar to be buggy at times, and used the menu options instead.

Now, back to the dashboard. To the left you have your collections, which are sort of like folders for your bookmarks.  In the center you have the search box.

How does the search work?

The add-on can search for the keyword in various ways. Basically it can find any page you have bookmarked or tagged or added to a collection. In addition to this, it can also find pages which you annotated or highlighted text on.

It supports full-text search of the web history and bookmarks, and supports filters next to that. You can use the filter option to narrow down the search further by

  • Date – Select a date range (say, October 27, 2019 – October 28, 2019)
  • Tags – Remember how we added tags? Use the same keyword here.
  • Domains- narrow down search by URL (example: ghacks.net)

Don’t have any of these at hand? Memex can still find the page by the text from titles and URLs.

Assuming you added a few pages to the database, perform a search using a relevant word and you should be able to find the page instantly. The best part is that the extension is meant to be an “offline-first” one. It is also open source, and has a good privacy policy. The add-on stores the data on your computer, so your data is yours. You can optionally backup your data on your computer, or to the cloud service of your choice from the settings menu.

Memex has a pro version that is completely optional. All it does is automatically backup the data every 15 minutes and supports cross-device sync.

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