Firefox 122 gets even more competitive with Chrome on translation
Plus a big change for Linux folks – native
The latest Firefox has a raft of modest but desirable improvements for everyone, and a more significant change, external to the app itself, that will be helpful for most Linux users.
Firefox 122 is not an especially big release, but the tweaks within the browser itself are all good. The more important shift is not part of the program itself at all: it's in how it's packaged, but it marks a quite sigificant change that will affect the majority of Linux users, where Firefox is the default browser in almost every distribution.
As we mentioned last August, in Firefox 117 the browser gained a new automatic translation feature. This is not just playing catch-up with Chrome, which has offered this for years: Firefox translations are more privacy-aware and happen inside the browser, meaning on your computer rather than some Google server in the cloud. Version 122 is better at preserving the layout and appearance of translated pages. It also improves support for word-selection and Unicode line-breaking rules, which should improve handling of some Asian writing systems.
The Firefox Suggest feature, which tries to anticipate what you're searching for using the combined URL-and-search box which the Reg once called "the revoltingly named 'awesome bar'," has also been improved. The suggestions now include thumbnail images, as well as articles from Mozilla's MDN Docs of resources for web developers.
On macOS, version 122 works with Apple passkeys stored in the iCloud keychain. Passkeys are a relatively new cross-vendor authentication method that's also supported by Google. You will soon see more websites using passkeys: the Reg FOSS desk got prompted to create his first passkey last weekend.
Firefox 122 for Android can be set as the default PDF viewer, and has improved privacy controls, including concealing the potentially identifying info of your Android version: it always reports that it's running on Android 10. Firefox 122 for iOS has more modest improvements, but then, it's still just a frame around Apple WebKit – for now.
Firefox's end-2023 market share looks to be just a few percent, while the Chromium engine – including Edge, Brave, Opera, Vivaldi et al – holds some three-quarters of the whole. But then, early last decade, Internet Explorer had more than 85 per cent and it's now a rounding error. The FOSS Desk endorses the suggested 2024 new year's resolution to switch browser to Firefox, whatever your OS.
The one place Firefox dominates is Linux, and as we reported when Debian turned 30, Debian and its derivatives are over half the world Linux market.
As of Firefox 122, installing it on Debian derivatives just got easier: there's now an official Mozilla Debian-format repository and package. This follows Mozilla publishing Debian packages of nightly builds late last year, and is alongside the official Flatpak and official Snap packages – and of course the native Windows and macOS editions.
.deb package is significant not only because Debian is the dominant distro family, but because there have long been various issues around installing Firefox on Debian and Ubuntu.
Debian includes Firefox as standard, but it favors the slow-moving Extended Support Release or ESR version, and sometimes even an older version of that. As we described before, there are ways around this, but an official package makes it easier. Better still, if you add the Mozilla repository, the newer browser will get updated along with the rest of the OS.
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This snap-format Firefox has proved controversial. It's slower to load, although Canonical has worked to improve that. It's sandboxed, which can cause integration issues, such as being unable to open local files, as well as issues printing and with managing GNOME extensions. All of these things are being worked on or are already fixed, but from the feedback we see online, the community's reaction is negative and it's impacting Ubuntu's reputation.
The downstream rival distro Linux Mint saw this as a competitive advantage, and with Mozilla's assistance, Mint ships a natively packaged version instead. With an official, public, upstream package, this should reduce the Mint team's workload. Mozilla engineering manager, Johan Lorenzo, said: "Mint does its own repackaging of Firefox into a .deb separate from ours, but both repackage the same binaries that Mozilla creates." He said Moz had been in contact with Mint about using the new package and "we're hoping to enable them to use the new .deb in the near future."
He also confirmed the gang was "continuing to work with Canonical to enhance the Snap on Ubuntu." ®