Which Firefox is right for you -- 14, 15, 16 or 17?

The recent release of Firefox 14 FINAL means the whole developmental cycle has moved on again, and as expected versions 15 (Beta), 16 (Aurora) and 17 (Nightly/UX) of Mozilla’s web browser have made their first appearances. Version 14 was a relatively minor release after the excitement of version 13, but versions 15 and 16 both promise some exciting new features as we reveal below.

Get a head’s up on what’s coming and discover which build is best for your personal needs with our updated guide to what the future holds in store for Firefox.

Firefox 14.0 FINAL

Without a doubt the recommended release for most users, as it’s the most stable build out there. There’s little in the current build to get too excited about, however, so if you’re feeling a little let down by the lack of new features, read on.

Firefox 15.0b1 Beta

At first glance there’s little to differentiate version 15 from 14 -- most confirmed changes are behind-the-scenes, such as start-up performances in Windows, the implementation of silent background updates to follow on from Firefox 14’s new service-based update mechanism and incremental garbage collection. Mac users should also see a number of accessibility improvements.

One undocumented feature that is active in Firefox 15 Beta is the inline PDF browser. The Mozilla Features/Release Tracking page has this down for version 16, but we found the feature present and correct in Firefox 15.

It may not be the only radical change either -- other major changes slated (but not yet enabled) include the integration of web apps to the desktop, which, although reportedly landed, is currently switched off while further testing is done in the Aurora channel.

As part of Firefox’s drive to eliminate all pop-up management windows, there’s also the possibility of the old Preferences dialogue box being replaced by a dedicated in-content tab to reduce clutter. Firefox Social Integration, the incorporation of a range of social network-friendly tools into a toolbar, sidebar or floating window, is also mooted, but seeing as it’s still as “Definition” stage only, we doubt very much if it’ll appear in time for Firefox 15 Final.

Firefox 16.0a2 Aurora

Firefox’s “alpha” build installs alongside either Firefox Final or Beta, allowing you to test it without affecting day-to-day browsing. Settings are shared between both builds, however, so install and use with caution.

Version 16 promises to be a landmark build for a number of reasons, and many of those are present and can be previewed in the current Aurora build. There’s a new panel-based download manager that replaces the old separate pop-up window -- it’s accessible when you click the download button above Bookmarks. Look out too for two Developer features: the Developer Toolbar and Command Line.

OS X Lion users hungry for more after version 14 finally introduced full-screen support will be interested to learn other Lion improvements, such as scroll bars, remapped gestures and double tap zoom support, are also under development, with version 16 the target release for at least a few more to make their appearance.

Another feature promised for version 16 is “speedy session restore”. This latter feature aims to speed up the reloading of previously open tabs and windows when restarting Firefox so Mozilla can make it the default choice for the browser.

Firefox 17.0a1 Nightly

Firefox’s Nightly channel gives users access to code hot off the press, and again it installs alongside other Firefox builds. It’s incredibly unstable, updated frequently and you’re just as likely to see new features disappear as appear.

After the excitement of version 16, new features in Firefox 17 are still thin on the ground. There are planned improvements to the display of location bar results -- some of these restylings have landed in Firefox 16, but others, such as using larger favicons,  remain in development. Elsewhere, the only other change of note comes with mooted improvements to the Add-ons Compatibility Check feature, but these remain at the planning stage only.

Some features mentioned above, but currently unavailable to preview, such as the in-content preferences dialog slated for Firefox 15, can be previewed via Firefox 17.0a1 UX, the parallel nightly build of Firefox where interface improvements make their first appearance. We’d recommend all but developers and serious, knowledgeable enthusiasts avoid the Nightly builds of Firefox.

So, to Summarize

Which version of Firefox should you try? Firefox 15 Beta certainly looks tempting with its inline PDF viewer and the promise of more to follow, while Firefox 16 Aurora also has some exciting new features to look forward to. At the present time, however, there’s nothing in Firefox 17 to suggest you venture into the murky waters of a Nightly build. All, along with Firefox 14 FINAL, are free, open-source downloads for Windows, Mac and Linux.

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