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What’s in the latest Firefox upgrade? Firefox 75 boosts search with address bar enhancements

Mozilla on Tuesday released Firefox 75 on schedule, unlike rivals Google and Microsoft, which postponed browser releases by weeks and scratched one version entirely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The upgrade’s most visible changes were to Firefox’s address bar, which has been tricked out with several enhancements designed to make for more productive searches.

The company’s developers also patched a half dozen vulnerabilities, three labeled “High,” Firefox’s second-most-serious label. As has regularly been the case, Mozilla addressed multiple memory safety flaws that criminals might have been able to exploit had they known of them.

Firefox 75 can be downloaded for Windows, macOS and Linux from Mozilla’s site. Because Firefox updates in the background, most users can just relaunch the browser to get the latest version. To manually update on Windows, pull up the menu under the three horizontal bars at the upper right, then click the help icon (the question mark within a circle). Choose “About Firefox.” (On macOS, “About Firefox” can be found under the “Firefox” menu.) The resulting page shows that the browser is either up to date or describes the refresh process.

This was the second version of Firefox to be released four weeks after its predecessor — Mozilla last upgraded the browser on March 10. In September 2019, the company announced it would accelerate the browser’s release pace by shortening the interval between upgrades from six weeks to five as an interim step, finally to four weeks.

Mozilla: We don’t do delays

It was notable that Firefox 75 appeared on time, as it had been scheduled months earlier. Three weeks ago, first Google, then Microsoft, announced that they had temporarily suspended Chrome and Edge releases, respectively.

Google put off Chrome 81’s March 17 launch, while Microsoft followed suit two days later. Although neither explicitly named the coronavirus and its resulting disruptions as the cause, their “adjusted work schedules” and “current global circumstances” descriptions blamed the pandemic.

A week later, Google said it would release Chrome 81 on April 7 (it did), scrub Chrome 82 from the launch list and debut Chrome 83 three weeks earlier than originally scheduled (on May 19). Microsoft again said its Edge — like Chrome, built on technologies provided by the open-source Chromium project — would mimic Google’s browser’s return.

Mozilla held to its calendar. “We believe we can maintain our 2020 Firefox release schedule as we navigate this global crisis together,” Joe Hildebrand, vice president for Firefox web technology, and Selena Deckelmann, vice president of Firefox desktop, wrote in a joint post to a company blog. And the two took shots at the competition, noting that their teams were familiar with working remotely.

“These strengths are what allow us to continue to make progress where some of our competitors have had to slow down or stop work.”

But Hildebrand and Deckelmann didn’t promise that Mozilla would never deviate from the every-four-week tempo. “We will continue to monitor both internal and external feedback and remain open to making future adjustments,” they said.

Augmenting the address bar

With its 50% faster release cadence – every four weeks rather than every six – users have to expect fewer new features and smaller amounts of new functionality in each upgrade. That’s the case with Firefox 75, which adds to the address bar and that’s about all.

Among the improvements to the bar, one stood out: A click in the address bar now drops down a list of the first eight sites from the new tab page. The click-and-list function works at all times, saving the need to first open a new tab before zipping to a favorite site (as long as the site is one of the first eight).

To change the contents of the list or the order of the sites within it, users must add to or subtract from the thumbnails on the new tab page, or reshuffle those already there.

Firefox 75's address bar Mozilla

A click in Firefox 75’s address bar displays the first eight sites from the new tab page. It’s a slick shortcut.

Other changes to the address bar’s user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) included boldfaced keywords based on the search string being entered – “to narrow your search even further,” Mozilla asserted – and a variable-sized field and font, both which expand when typing a search string and contract to standard size when finished.

Mozilla highlighted several developer- and enterprise-specific changes as well, ranging from the loading attribute on elements to support for client certificates from the macOS certificate store. More information can be found in Firefox 75’s release notes.

The next Mozilla upgrade, Firefox 76, should appear May 5.



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What’s in the latest Firefox upgrade? Firefox 74 ends add-on sideloading

Mozilla on Tuesday shipped Firefox 74. Wait, didn’t we just get a new Firefox a minute or two ago?

It may feel that way. Firefox 74 arrived just four weeks after its predecessor, continuing the faster release cadence promised last year.

The refreshed browser dropped support for the now-obsolete TLS 1.0 and 1.1 cryptographic protocols, blocked all add-on “side-loading” except that allowed by enterprise-managed group policy, and enabled support for a header element designed to safeguard against attacks based on the Meltdown and Spectre hardware-based vulnerabilities first revealed two years ago.

Mozilla’s security engineers also patched a dozen vulnerabilities, half of them labeled “High,” Mozilla’s second-most-serious threat label. As usual, some of the flaws might be used by criminals.

“We presume that with enough effort some of these could have been exploited to run arbitrary code,” the firm wrote of two of the bugs. Two others were discovered and reported by members of Google Project Zero, the search company’s team of researchers who root out unpatched flaws in Google and non-Google software.

Firefox 74 can be downloaded for Windows, macOS and Linux from Mozilla’s site. Because Firefox updates in the background, most users can simply relaunch the browser to get the latest version. To manually update on Windows, pull up the menu under the three horizontal bars at the upper right, then click the help icon (the question mark within a circle). Choose “About Firefox.” (On macOS, “About Firefox” can be found under the “Firefox” menu.) The resulting page shows that the browser is either up to date or describes the refresh process.

This was the first version of Firefox to be released four weeks after its predecessor — Mozilla last upgraded the browser on Feb. 11. In September 2019, the company announced it would pick up the development and release pace by shortening the interval between upgrades from six weeks to first five, then to four.

Say farewell to TLS 1.0, 1.1

As expected, Firefox 74 pulled the plug on the outdated encryption protocols of TLS (Transport Layer Security) 1.0 and 1.1. When users try to connect to a site secured with either TLS version, Firefox now shows a “Secure Connection Failed” error page.

But as when Mozilla delivered Firefox 73, this month’s upgrade included an override button letting users temporarily enable TLS 1.0 and 1.1. That button will remain “for a couple of release cycles,” said Chris Mills, content team manager at the Mozilla Developer Network, in a March 10 post to a company blog. “You won’t be able to rely on it for too long,” Mills also warned. (A “couple of release cycles” might mean through, say, Firefox 76, which will be supplanted by the next version on June 2.)

Note: The deprecation of TLS 1.0/1.1 was the result of a 2018 joint decision by makers of the four biggest browsers (including Apple, Safari; Google, Chrome; and Microsoft, Edge and Internet Explorer).

Sideloading stymied

Firefox 74 also put a stop to sideloading, the term describing how a third-party application installs an associated add-on in Firefox. (One example from times past was the “Web Clipper” add-on that Evernote installed in browsers, including Firefox.) Sideloading has been, if not banned outright, certainly frowned upon by browser makers, who have cited security concerns regarding the practice.

In October 2019, Mozilla said that it would ban sideloading, noting malware opportunities as well as the lack of user control; sideloaded add-ons were installed without user approval and could not be deleted by the normal method of heading to Firefox’s Add-ons Manager portal. At the time, Mozilla targeted Firefox 74 as the version that would drop support for sideloading.

That’s happened.

Users must now take an explicit action to install a sideloaded add-on in Firefox — blocking the hands-off kind of installs sideloading was known for — and can delete them from the Add-Ons Manager. Add-ons that were sideloaded previously won’t be removed by Mozilla (that’s for users to do if they wish), but no new sideloaded browser add-ons will be permitted from Firefox 74 forward.

As is almost always the case with Firefox, this change-up can itself be stymied in the enterprise if IT deploys the appropriate group policies to employees’ copies of the browser.

More information on Firefox 74’s stance on sideloading can be found in this Mozilla post of March 10.

Enhances security, privacy

Mozilla enabled support for the “Cross-Origin Resource Policy” (CORP) header, which can be used by site developers to opt in to protection against cross-origin requests, or those from outside the domain of the website itself.

Using CORP can help safeguard against attacks by the likes of Spectre and Meltdown, the side-channel, hardware-based vulnerabilities that went public in early 2018 and triggered major efforts by browser makers, OS developers and chip company Intel to provide patches.

Firefox 74 also took the time to trumpet the Mozilla-made Facebook Container, an add-on that locks the social network and a user’s interactions with it inside a separate container, or sections of the browser’s memory. Anything done inside the container cannot be tracked outside the container; the result is that Facebook then cannot track one of its users when she goes elsewhere on the web.

firefox74 1 facebook container IDG

When Firefox restarts after upgrading to version 74, the first thing the browser does is pitch the Facebook Container to the user.

Facebook Container is not new: Mozilla launched it almost two years ago. (The latest version now lets users add custom sites to a list so that Facebook’s credentials can be used for logging on to those websites.) Rather, once Firefox 74 has been installed — or Firefox was upgraded to version 74 — Mozilla uses the opportunity to pitch the add-on.

Firefox Container can also be installed from here.

The next version, Firefox 75, is to launch on April 7.



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The Latest Research for Web Designers, March 2020

While it’s important to know about the latest research and surveys impacting web design, I think it’s just as important to stay informed about news that may affect your work as a designer.

As such, this roundup of the latest research for web designers includes a mix of reports along with some news and facts about something that people are talking about all around the world: the coronavirus.

 

A Better Lemonade Stand Analyzes the Best Remote Working Locations

With the help of Nomad List, A Better Lemonade Stand has aggregated a list of the 20 best places to work remotely.

While finding a place to live can be a very subjective matter (for instance, some people prefer colder locales or warm ones), this list takes into account factors that can have a serious impact on the work of a freelancer. For example, this is why Auckland, New Zealand ended up taking the #1 spot for remote work:

Latest Research for Web Designers - Nomad List ranking for Auckland New Zealand

The other cities to round out the top 10 are:

  • Bengaluru, India
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Lisbon, Portugal

I’d argue that it’s high scores on factors like the following that make them the best spots to work remotely from:

  • Cost
  • Internet speed
  • Free wifi in the city
  • Places to work from
  • Walkability
  • Happiness score
  • Quality of life

If you’ve been considering a move and you want it to not only be a place you love but that’s good for your business, one of these nomad-friendly spots might fit the bill.

 

Hubspot Gives Us a Comprehensive Look at the State of Marketing

As always, there’s almost too much information to digest in Hubspot’s annual State of Marketing report. But that’s not going to stop me from highlighting the points you can use to bring more money into your business:

Website Upgrades Needed

According to the survey, 63% of respondents are looking to upgrade their websites in 2020. If you have experience in and enjoy doing website redesigns, hop on this opportunity as soon as you can.

Maintenance Pros Wanted

Sometimes it’s not the design that needs to be tweaked. Rather your clients would benefit from a technical tune-up along with ongoing maintenance.

When asked which tactics have been the most beneficial for improving a website’s performance and search ranking, here’s what respondents had to say:

Hubspot State of Marketing - Website Fixes

You could easily create a recurring revenue stream around these maintenance tasks.

Visual-Heavy Content Marketing is a Must

Marketers use a wide variety of content in their marketing strategies:

Hubspot State of Marketing - Content Types

If you’re in the business of building websites, you should also be helping your clients create graphics for the media above. For instance, you could provide ongoing design services for:

  • Blog (and promotional social media) graphics
  • Videos or just video cover images
  • Infographics
  • Templates for case studies, ebooks, and white papers

Just because your job is primarily to build high-converting websites for clients doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking for other ways to serve them.

 

The Coronavirus’s Impact on Freelancers

With so much news about the coronavirus out there, it’s hard to know what to focus your attention. If you’re a freelancer, then these are the statistics and research you should focus on:

Conferences Around the World Are Being Cancelled

Business Insider and the LA Times rounded up lists of conferences that have been cancelled, rescheduled, or restructured because of the coronavirus:

  • Adobe Summit (it’ll be online instead)
  • Facebook’s F8
  • Facebook’s Global Marketing Summit
  • EmTech Asia
  • Shopify Developer Conference
  • Google I/O
  • Google Cloud Next ‘20 (rescheduled as an online event)

And for those of you who work with WordPress, WordCamp Asia was cancelled.

WordCamp Asia Cancelled - Coronavirus

Considering how expensive and time-consuming professional design conferences can be to attend, these cancellations might not be as big of a disappointment to the freelance community. In fact, it might bring a change to the professional conference landscape, with more of them hosted virtually so that it becomes cheaper, more practical, and now safer to attend.

Some Freelance Gigs Are Drying Up

In particular, it’s Singapore’s population of freelancers that are feeling the effects of the coronavirus, according to a report from Vice.

It makes sense. As businesses close down their offices or their operations altogether, the contract workforce who works behind the scenes for them is going to be impacted as well. This is especially problematic for those who build ecommerce and retail websites. With many products manufactured in China (31.3% of all apparel and 37.6% of textiles are manufactured there, for instance), inventories are waning and many retailers are having to wait out the virus to resume operations. 

The Singapore government recently announced plans for its 2020 budget, which included contributing SG$800 million towards curbing the effects of the virus on the country. Additional support is to be given to industries the most severely affected by it as well.

While the country’s budget doesn’t account for freelancers (as I’m sure will be the case in other countries), the freelance community itself is stepping up.

Nicholas Chee, who runs a video production company in Singapore, started a Facebook group for freelancers who’ve been dealing with lost gigs as a result of the coronavirus. It’s called SG COVID-19 Creative/Cultural Professionals & Freelancers Support Group and is giving the freelance community a way to support each other through this crisis.

Web Designers May Be Able To Help Stop The Spread of Coronavirus

It’s not just Facebook groups that are going to help freelancers get through the coronavirus crisis in one piece. According to Dr. Stephanie Evergreen, web designers might actually be able to help slow down or stop the spread of the virus itself.

In an article she wrote for Fast Company, Dr. Evergreen, a data visualization specialist, demonstrates how more eye-catching graphics can better educate the public on what’s going on and what they can do.

For instance, she shares this graphic from the World Health Organization:

World Health Organization - MERS Cases Charts

While it more effectively lays out this data than a wall of text would, it’s not going to do much to capture anyone’s attention.

It’s more important than ever for public health agencies to use data visualization to communicate with the masses, as the public is bombarded with more information each day and in need of a way for the most pressing issues to cut through the noise.

Quantifiable data, instead, should be presented like this graphic from the Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health - Influenza Activity map and data

It does both a good job of capturing attention and informing the public of what’s going on.

Bottom line: if your website is tasked with communicating critical data to the public, see if there’s a way you can lend your design skills to it. While a writer can clearly communicate what’s going on, graphics are more likely to grab and hold their attention.

 

Wrap-Up

While annual “State of” reports always tend to wind down around February/March, we still have a wealth of data coming in that not only affects your design strategy but your business strategy too.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next edition of the latest research for web designers as we’re sure to see the first quarterly reports come out for design, marketing, SEO, and more.



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The Latest Research for Web Designers Feb 2020

One of the most valuable resources you have as a web designer is data. Data informs a lot of what you do for clients, so why shouldn’t it do the same for your own business?

In the following roundup of the latest research for web designers, I’ve included reports and surveys that shed light on: The battle between mobile and desktop, Why so many websites keep getting hacked, What’s keeping ecommerce business owners awake at night, and What Google is now saying about mobile-first indexing.

 

Hootsuite Puts a Spotlight on Mobile

Although Hootsuite is a social media marketing tool, its Digital 2020 report (created in conjunction with We Are Social) reveals much more about the state of marketing as a whole than just social media.

As of January 2020, the total number of users has reached 4.5 billion. That’s a 7% growth from the same period in 2019.

A huge contributor of that growth is the increased adoption of Internet-connected devices all around the world:

Hootsuite Digital 2020 - Global Growth

This graphic alone demonstrates why it’s crucial for websites to be able to cater to a global user base and not just those in developed nations.

Another telling statistic from this report shows how much more Internet users are coming to rely on their mobile phones:

Hootsuite Digital 2020 - Web Traffic Device

Between December 2018 and December 2019, there was an 8.6% leap in the amount of mobile web traffic. Laptops and desktops shrunk in popularity during that same timeframe as did tablets, which saw a massive dip in usage.

It’s not just the amount of traffic on mobile vs. web that’s seen changes either. It’s the amount of time users spend on those devices. As a whole, consumers spend 6 hours and 43 minutes online every day; 3 hours and 22 minutes of which is from their mobile devices.

Key Takeaway

If you’re not already building progressive web apps for clients, 2020 may be the perfect time to learn how to do so. Not only do they provide a superior experience for mobile users, but they also are capable of serving users who may not have the best Internet connectivity or live in close proximity to your web servers.

 

Sucuri Reveals What Was Going on with Hacked Sites in 2019

The Sucuri Hacked Website Threat Report just came out with some interesting data on the state of web security.

Let’s start by looking at the integrity of the content management systems web designers commonly use:

Sucuri Report - Outdated Infected CMS

Out of all the infected websites Sucuri found last year, 56% of them had an outdated CMS. As you can see above, some users do a better job of protecting their core by updating their CMS technology. Others… not so much.

It’s not just content management systems that users are failing to update either. More than two-thirds have websites using PHP versions that are no longer supported (i.e. 5.x and 7.0).

Sucuri - PHP Versions

Then, there’s the fact that websites with vulnerabilities weren’t just found to have one vulnerability. 44% of vulnerable websites had at least two vulnerable components and 10% had four or more.

Considering this, it’s no surprise that once-infected websites have a tendency to be reinfected.

Key Takeaways

On average, Sucuri cleaned up 147 files and 232 database entries for every malware infection detected. Even if those numbers are improvements from previous years, think about how costly the cleanup is going to be for your clients if or when that happens to them.

So, rather than focus strictly on web design or development in the coming years, start thinking about how you can weave website security into the mix. Whether you want to provide maintenance services for live websites or you want to build security measures into a websites in development, it’s up to you.

But something needs to be done to fix this systemic issue.

 

A Better Lemonade Stand Shares Results from eCommerce Survey

For those of you working with ecommerce clients (or who want to), this survey from A Better Lemonade Stand is one to pay close attention to.

Right off the bat, the survey reveals that 62.1% of people who want to start an ecommerce business have yet to do so. As for why they haven’t, there are a variety of reasons given:

A Better Lemonade Stand - Why Not Start

Pay close attention to these reasons as you can use them to sell your ecommerce design services as a solution:

  • The monetary investment
  • A lack of know-how
  • A lack of time to do so

You can also use survey data from current ecommerce owners to better position your business before prospective clients:

A Better Lemonade Stand - eCommerce Struggles

Here you can see what ecommerce business owners report as their biggest struggles. Five of the top ten you can easily help them out with:

  • Getting traffic
  • Conversion optimization
  • Strategy & analytics
  • Branding & design
  • Operations & customer service (through the website, at least)

Key Takeaway

You can present ecommerce business owners in the making with a cost-effective done-for-you option as well as proof of how quickly you can get them an ROI (like with a case study) if they’re really worried about cost. They need to see how your expertise will save them time and make them more money in the long run.

The same goes for clients with existing businesses. You now know what their top concerns are. If you see a flailing ecommerce site, use this knowledge to get the conversation started and to pose your own solution. Again, just make sure you have proof to back up what you promise to do.

 

Google Updates Mobile-First Indexing Best Practices

Think you know all that you need to know to design a mobile-first website? Well, Google just updated its mobile-first indexing best practices.

Here’s a high-level overview of what the new best practices state:

  • If you’re using the robots metatag, make sure it’s the same for mobile and desktop.
  • Use the same URLs for your mobile and desktop sites.
  • Use the same content on mobile as you do on desktop. If you think there should be less content on mobile, just make sure that whatever is desktop-only isn’t critical for Google or visitors to know about as it won’t factor into indexing at all.

In other words, Google is strictly using mobile for the purposes of indexing. If you do anything that compromises what Google can scan on your mobile website, your rank will suffer as a result.

By keeping things consistent between mobile and desktop, you can reduce the chance of any issues arising.

Be sure to check out the full report for all of Google’s new recommendations. There’s information in there about what kinds of image and video formats to use along with information on lazy loading.

Key Takeaway

If you were adhering to Google’s former guidelines, it’s a good time to check back in with what it’s currently recommending. You may need to reconnect with old clients to let them know about the changes and to provide them with an update strategy.

 

Wrap-Up

There’s always new industry or consumer research that can help you do better work for your clients and make more money in the process. It’s just not always easy to keep your eyes peeled for it when you’re trying to focus on your job.

If you stay tuned to WebDesigner Depot each month, though, you’ll get a roundup of the latest research for web designers to give you a hand.

 

Featured image via Unsplash.



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What’s in the latest Firefox update? Firefox 73 adds to usability and accessibility options

Mozilla this week released Firefox 73, a minor upgrade whose most notable addition was a new default setting for page zooming.

Software engineers working on the open-source browser also patched six vulnerabilities, half of them labeled “High,” Mozilla’s second-most-serious threat rating. As usual, some of the flaws might be used by criminals.

“We presume that with enough effort some of these could have been exploited to run arbitrary code,” the firm wrote of two of the bugs.

Firefox 73 can be downloaded for Windows, macOS and Linux from Mozilla’s site. Because Firefox updates in the background, most users need only relaunch the browser to get the latest version. To manually update on Windows, pull up the menu under the three horizontal bars at the upper right, then click the help icon (the question mark within a circle). Choose “About Firefox.” (On macOS, “About Firefox” can be found under the “Firefox” menu.) The resulting page shows that the browser is either up to date or describes the refresh process.

Mozilla last upgraded the browser on Jan. 7, or five weeks ago.

From this point forward, Mozilla will refresh the browser every four weeks. Firefox 74 will end a gradual reduction to the intervals between upgrades: Mozilla announced the release speed-up in September, when it said the original six-week span would be shortened to five weeks, then to four.

Zoom-zoom

Firefox’s faster release tempo comes at a price: the distinct possibility that each upgrade will boast fewer new features, fewer improvements and enhancements. Firefox 73 is proof, as Mozilla was able to highlight just two changes evident to end users.

The first was a new user-set global default for the page zoom level. Rather than monkey with zoom for each site individually – to, for instance, zoom in to make text more readable for older eyes – users can set a default level higher or lower than 100% as the new baseline.

To change the default zoom (which remains at 100% if the user declines to modify it), users must open Preferences (on macOS) or Options (Windows), then under the “General” tab locate “Language and Appearance.” Select the desired default zoom from the box under “Zoom.”

That number – 110%, for instance – becomes the new baseline for all sites. Users can still manually increase or decrease zoom with keystroke combinations or from the menu.

firefox 73 default zoom Mozilla

Firefox 73’s new zoom default lets users set a baseline to, for example, zoom in to 120% on every site. For anyone who is constantly zooming, this saves tons of time.

The other addition trumpeted by Mozilla in Firefox 73’s release notes was labeled “readability backplate” and designed to collaborate with Windows’ high contrast mode. The latter is a setting that replaces the original colors of, say, a website’s text and background, with high contrast combinations for easier reading by people with vision issues.

Previously, Firefox has simply disabled background images when the user enabled high contrast mode. In Firefox 73, the readability backplate “places a block of background color between the text and background image,” Mozilla said. “Now, websites in High Contrast Mode are more readable without disabling background images.”

Days are numbered for TSL 1.0 and TSL 1.1

Mozilla, like other browser makers, is knee-deep in putting an end to the outdated encryption protocols of TLS (Transport Layer Security) 1.0 and 1.1.

More than a year ago, in October 2018, Mozilla announced that the two standards, TLS 1.0 and TLS 1.1, would lose Firefox support in March 2020. That’s next to now.

In a Feb. 6 post, Thyla van der Merwe, the cryptography engineering manager at Mozilla, promised that the upcoming Firefox 74 would give the boot to the pair. “Expect Firefox 74 to offer TLS 1.2 as its minimum version for secure connections when it ships on 10 March 2020,” she wrote.

Although van der Merwe said that Firefox would retain an override button (which has been appearing on warnings when users try to reach a website encrypted by TSL 1.0 or TSL 1.1), she noted that with telemetry trends being what they were, “It’s unlikely that the button will stick around for long.”

The next version, Firefox 74, will release on March 10.



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