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October 26, 2020
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What’s in the latest Firefox upgrade? UI and auto-fill fresheners

Mozilla last week refreshed Firefox to version 81, adding a new standard theme for the browser, improving its PDF skills and automatically filing in credit card information.

Engineers also patched six vulnerabilities, half of them labeled “High,” Firefox’s second-most-serious label. Unlike many Firefox upgrades, version 81 did not fix any bugs marked “Critical.”

Firefox 81 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 upgrades Firefox every four weeks, the fastest tempo of any of the top four browsers. Mozilla last upgraded the browser on Aug. 25.

UI? You bet

Unlike the last several Firefox updates — versions 77 through 80 — Firefox 81 actually offered users noticeable new features and functionality (some in the in-your-face UI, no less).

Mozilla added a fourth built-in theme for the browser, dubbed “Alpenglow.” The new theme transformed the area around the address bar into a colorful sweep of pinks and purples, a brazen departure from the until-now-standard “Default,” “Dark” and “Light” choices.

Users can change the theme — or download others — by selecting Add-ons from the menu at the upper right.

Also on the UI front, Firefox 81 is supposed to respond to devices’ audio and video control buttons, those built into a keyboard or headset, say, as well as the virtual keys in the Mac’s touch bar. Not surprisingly, caveats abound.

Fill it up

In other UI-related news on Firefox 81, Mozilla reworked the PDF viewer’s look and feel to match the browser’s. (Previously, the viewer’s UI resembled a bolted-on afterthought, more Frankenstein than fit to Firefox.)

Firefox’s PDF viewer now supports AcroForm, aka the Acrobat Forms technology for completing PDF-based forms at the keyboard (as opposed to printing, filling the form by hand, then scanning to send via, for instance, email) by filling out pre-set fields. Computerworld, however, was unable to test the AcroForm capability on macOS; Firefox’s PDF viewer kicked up the error message: The filing of form fields is not supported..

In the U.S. and Canada, Firefox 81 will automatically enter the user’s previous-saved credit card information in forms, such as those on shopping sites as the buyer checks out. (As with AcroForm support, Firefox 81 on macOS did not show Computerworld these credit card changes.) When the feature is enabled — Mozilla, like other software makers, often rolls out new features and functionality to the user base in stages — it can be turned off or on from the Preferences > Privacy & Security > Forms and Autofill. For additional security, users can choose to require further authentication before credit card autofill; the OS’s log-in password will unlock the feature.

On the enterprise side, where Firefox’s influence pales in comparison with Chrome’s or even Microsoft’s new Chrome-wannabe, Edge, Mozilla noted that as of last week’s launch of v.81, corporate users still running Firefox 68 ESR (Extended Support Release) would be force-fed Firefox 78 ESR as its 2020-2021 replacement.

The next upgrade, Firefox 82, will be released Oct. 20.

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