Following the release of Firefox 18 earlier this week, Mozilla on Thursday announced updates to its Firefox Beta channel on desktop as well as Android. The former has received a built-in PDF viewer and remote debugging. The latter has gained additional ARMv6 support, themes, and integration with the Google search widget.

Firefox Beta 19 for Desktop

Let’s take a look at the new desktop beta first, available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. First of all, here are the release notes:

  • NEW: Built-in PDF viewer.
  • NEW: Firefox will offer to reset the Awesomebar search provider, if it has been changed by third-party software or through about: config.
  • CHANGED: Canvas elements can export their content as an image blob using canvas.toBlob().
  • CHANGED: Startup performance improvements (bugs 715402 and 756313).
  • DEVELOPER: Debugger now supports pausing on exceptions and hiding non-enumerable properties.
  • DEVELOPER:
    Remote Web Console is available for connecting to Firefox on Android or Firefox OS (experimental, set devtools.debugger.remote-enabled to true).
  • DEVELOPER: There is now a Browser Debugger available for add-on and browser developers (experimental, set devtools.chrome.enabled to true).
  • DEVELOPER: Web Console CSS links now open in the Style Editor.
  • HTML5: CSS @page is now supported.
  • HTML5: CSS viewport-percentage length units implemented (vh, vw, vmin and vmax).
  • HTML5: CSS text-transform now supports full-width.
  • FIXED: Starting Firefox with -private flag incorrectly claims you are not in Private Browsing mode (802274).

PDF.js is a JavaScript library intended to convert PDF files into HTML5, started by Andreas Gal and Chris Jones as a research project that eventually picked up steam within Mozilla Labs. If you’re getting a huge feeling of déjà vu for the PDF viewer, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Here’s the story:

Technically, the PDF viewer has been in Firefox for many versions, but you had to manually enable it. It was only switched on by default for the first time in the Firefox 18 beta. It was thus expected to arrive in the final release of Firefox 18, out earlier this week, but it got pushed back. Now it’s scheduled for Firefox 19, and hence why it’s in this beta release.

The whole point of the built-in PDF viewer is to avoid having to use plugins with proprietary closed source code “that could potentially expose users to security vulnerabilities,” according to Mozilla. It also cuts down on extra bloat that Firefox can already do: PDF viewing plugins have their own code for drawing images and text.

PDF.js loads and renders PDFs quickly directly in the browser, and because it uses standard HTML5 APIs, it can run on many platforms (PCs, tablets, and phones). Furthermore, Mozilla expects performance to only improve as JavaScript engines continue to improve. The company is asking for your bug reports on GitHub.

The other change we feel is worth underlining from the release notes is remote debugging. The feature is designed to help developers test Firefox for Android or Firefox OS mobile Web apps from the desktop browser, a Mozilla spokesperson told us.

Firefox Beta 19 for Android

It’s worth noting that this Firefox for Android beta release adds even more ARMv6 support, making Firefox for Android available to roughly 15 million more phones. The beta is now available to phones with minimum requirements of 600MHz, 512MB, HVGA, including the LG Optimus One, T-Mobile myTouch 3G slide, HTC Wildfire S, and ZTE R750.

Before we dig deeper on what all these Android phones get from the latest Firefox beta, let’s get those release notes out of the way:

  • NEW: Added theme support.
  • NEW: Support for Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese localizations.
  • CHANGED: Canvas elements can export their content as an image blob using canvas.toBlob().
  • CHANGED: Lowered minimum CPU requirement to 600MHz.
  • HTML5: CSS @page is now supported.
  • HTML5: CSS viewport-percentage length units implemented (vh, vw, vmin and vmax).
  • HTML5: CSS text-transform now supports full-width.
  • FIXED: Holding backspace may delete text both in front of and behind the cursor (770291).

Let’s start with the addition of themes. The beta features add-ons that let you change the look of Firefox in just a few taps: visit addons.mozilla.org on your Android device, tap the Personas tab, select your favorite theme, and then save it to your browser by pressing “Keep it.”

The Beta also includes Firefox Integration in the Google Search Widget. This means you can launch a Google search directly from your phone’s homescreen. To enable this, tap the Menu button on your Android device, tap Add, and then select Firefox under Widgets.

Last but not least, Firefox for Android Beta adds Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese language support. As my colleague Josh Ong points out, this could spell trouble for native Chinese android browsers, such as UC browser.

Image credit: Karol Wiszniewski