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24 April 2012, 18:59

Firefox 12 released - can now update itself

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Firefox logo Mozilla has announced the official release of Firefox 12. In the latest release, Mozilla has included the previously announced update service for Windows that spares users the User Account Control (UAC) pop-up. As Firefox is installed in the Programs directory, it requires higher privileges for updating.

Instead of asking users for the required privileges via UAC, it now uses the Mozilla Maintenance Service to update program files. Firefox executes the service with system privileges when it is needed and closes it after the update. An Access Control Entry (ACE) in the update service allows Firefox to launch it with system privileges even though the browser itself does not have them.

Zoom Users can change the settings of Firefox's update service for Windows under Options > Advanced > Update
Users can enable or disable the service in the Firefox menu under OptionsAdvancedUpdate ("Use a background service to install updates"). When this service is combined with the "Automatically install updates" option, Firefox takes care of version maintenance on its own for the most part. If users don't want to be warned when an update may disable incompatible add-ons, they can also uncheck the corresponding box.

The final result should be an almost silent update that, at most, only alerts users after an update has been successfully applied. How well this actually works will not be known until Firefox is updated to version 13 in six weeks time. For Mac OS X and Linux, Silent Updates are currently planned for version 14. Google's Chrome browser has updated itself since its initial release, and Microsoft has also been experimenting with updating Internet Explorer through Windows Update without users having to do anything.

Zoom Not pretty, but practical: a new tab page displaying frequently visited sites can be enabled in Firefox 12
Other than the update service, there aren't many new features affecting average users in Firefox 12. Lines in the page source view now have line numbers, and the title attribute supports line breaks. The new version also has one more well-hidden change. If users go to about:config and set browser.newtabpage.enabled to true and then enter about:newtab under browser.newtab.url, a new Firefox tab will show the most frequently visited web pages, like in Chrome.

There are also seven critical fixes included in Firefox 12 for holes in WebGL, OpenType Sanitizer, font-rendering with Cairo, gfxImageSurface, IBMKeyRange, FreeType and miscellaneous memory usage. Further details of these fixes and the four high and three moderate issues resolved are available on the security advisories page for Firefox. The developers have also fixed a problem with reading plugin metadata in the Mac version of Firefox that had prevented the developers from blocklisting vulnerable versions of the Java plugin on newer Mac OS X versions.

More than 85 improvements have been made to the built-in developer tools. These include the addition of Find and Jump to Line commands to the Scratchpad editor, and transitions in the Style Editor. To see messages and errors in the Web Console, developers no longer need to reload the page.

More details about the update can be found in the release notes. Firefox 12 is available to download from the Firefox home page for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux and can also be downloaded for different systems and languages. Firefox binaries are released under the Mozilla Firefox End-User Software License Agreement and the source code is released under disjunctive tri-licensing that includes the Mozilla Public License, GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1.

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