Firefox 119 unleashes PDF prowess and Sync sorcery

Mozilla's Fakespot acquisition to bear fruit really soon

Updated Firefox 119 is out with improved inter-device sync and PDF editing, but coming soon is a whole new ability.

The latest version refines and improves some of the browser's existing abilities in PDF handling and cross-gadget synchronization. A whole new and significantly helpful feature should show up in a forthcoming version, though, thanks to Mozilla's acquisition of Fakespot.

In the version that officially appeared on Tuesday, and which this vulture's machines picked up just yesterday, there's already stuff worth having. Its PDF manipulation abilities are now so good that we feel we should spell out exactly what you can do with them.

For the last few years, October has brought seasonal foxy fruitfulness. This is all thanks to the in-browser PDF renderer that appeared way back in version 19 in 2013. This eliminated the need for a separate PDF viewer or plugin – especially handy for operating systems that may not have one. For instance, the official Adobe Reader for Linux was discontinued after version 9 and that decade-old version doesn't install smoothly on modern Linux, not to mention that it has known security issues. The official reader only ever ran on x86 computers anyway so users of RISC boxes, or any of the BSD OSes, were even worse off. The in-browser PDF renderer, though, works on anything the browser does.

In October 2021, Firefox 93 picked up completion of purpose-designed PDF forms. If whoever created the document ticked the box to generate a modifiable form, for a couple of years you've been able to fill them out inside Firefox, then save it and send it back to them. This is doubly handy because many standalone PDF readers are view-only, with no editing – including most Linux PDF viewers, for instance.

This time last year, Firefox 106 gained the ability to annotate PDFs. That means you could draw or type text onto PDFs, even if they weren't designed to be editable. So you can fill out PDF forms that were originally meant to be printed. The Reg FOSS desk changed countries this year, and is unpleasantly familiar with the cycle of printing, filling out by hand, and then all too often scanning the result back into a computer and emailing it. In this vulture's experience, anyone expecting a hand-completed form was going to retype the info anyway, so they're usually happily surprised to receive a digital version that's easier to read – even if it's not properly signed by hand.

Well, now version 119 can also add graphics to existing PDFs, so you can copy and paste a photo of your signature, too. You can also add alt-text to images for improved accessibility.

This version also has closer integration with Mozilla's cross-device sync service, Firefox View. This requires Firefox Sync, which in turn needs what's now called a Mozilla Account. The service is worth turning on: If nothing else, if you only use one computer, it backs up all your open tabs, and throws a password manager into the bargain.

Once you've enabled sync, when you use Firefox on multiple devices – such as a desktop, several laptops, and maybe even a phone – they can see open tabs on each other, so you can pick up tabs from other machines. This is a bit harder to get at if you use a replacement tab bar (and if you don't, you should try it). It does still work, though, and you can add the "Synced Tabs" button to the toolbar or overflow menu. We already find it quite handy.

Additionally, there's improved security thanks to the new Encrypted Client Hello (ECH), which the company calls out in its special enterprise release notes.

Firefox 120 brings boost for Ubuntu users

Looking to the future, next month's Firefox 120 should bring some other welcome new features, especially for Ubuntu users.

Firefox is the default browser on almost all Linux distros. Notably, since Ubuntu 21.10 came out, it has been packaged in Canonical's Snap format, which all official Ubuntu flavors use. The free Chromium browser in the Ubuntu repositories comes as a Snap, too. Not directly connected with Sync or View, but still useful, is improved import between Snap-packaged browsers. Back in April, Firefox 112 gained the ability to import data from the Snap-packaged Chromium – but unfortunately it didn't work if Firefox itself was packaged as a snap. A fix for that should come with the next release, letting the Firefox 120 snap import settings and data – and possibly some extensions as well – from the Chromium snap.

Meanwhile, Mozilla's May Fakespot acquisition should soon bear visible fruit. Fakespot, which The Reg has cited before, specializes in identifying fake reviews. This "astroturfing" comprises false feedback from alleged customers who haven't bought the product, or were "reviewing" products that weren't out yet, or who simply recycle boilerplate text.

An MS Power User report says that Fakespot's functionality should turn up at some point soon and is already in testing for some US users. The new Review Checker tool aims to identify fake reviews – thus far, on Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart – and can optionally hide them. This sounds like a valuable addition for newbies and the less web-savvy, and thus a good reason to put Firefox on non-techie relatives' computers … especially given Chrome's ever-decreasing privacy. ®

Updated to add

This article was rewritten to reflect that the Review Checker tool is not coming in Firefox 120. Mozilla contacted The Reg to correct MS Power User's time scales, saying:

The Review Checker is a new feature in Firefox that we are testing with a limited audience in the United States. It is powered by Fakespot's technology platform, which Mozilla acquired earlier this year. Fakespot helps consumers assess the reliability of reviews so they can make better informed purchase decisions.

Since we are currently testing the Review Checker, we have not yet announced a date to roll it out to a larger audience. We will continue to test and see if this is one of the ways where we can help improve people’s online experience.

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