With betas and alphas of every flavor of web browser dropping like snowflakes during a cold winter these days, a whole host of advanced features are showing up built into the default browser of the future. From Firefox to Opera to Internet Explorer to Chrome, a new feature set is emerging, which will put things like a smart address bar, porn (private) browsing mode, tab-specific crashing, and drag and drop tabbing in front of mainstream users who would never think to install an extension manually. But which of these features do you think are necessary, and which ones do you think are just there to justify a new release and "keep up with the Joneses"? Let's take a look at this new crop of features showing up across the new generation of web browsers and then tell us which ones you like the most.
Smart Address Bar: Your browser's address bar isn't just a place to type URLs any more. The new crop of smart address bars—a la Firefox 3's "AwesomeBar" and Chrome's "Omnibox," as well as Opera and IE8's location bars—suggest URLs as you type based on your history, and bookmarks, and can even run web searches for you.
Private Browsing Mode: Along with an address bar that knows where you've been, a "private browsing mode" inevitably follows, so that your kids don't accidentally stumble upon your browser history over at Fleshbot. Internet Explorer 8, Safari, Opera, and Chrome all have "porn mode" built-in (called everything from InPrivate to Incognito mode), and it's on the menu for Firefox's upcoming 3.1 release.
"Speed-Dial" Web Page Thumbnail View: Taking a page from Opera's "Speed Dial" playbook, Chrome combines the handy web page thumbnail view with its history of your most visited sites and recent web searches to create a smart new tab page, which gives you quick access to the places you're most likely to surf to. Firefox 3 currently offers smart bookmarks, which can show you what sites you've visited the most, but it doesn't offer page thumbnails without an extension just yet.
Resizeable Text Areas: Both Chrome and Safari let you resize multi-line input fields, a sure sign of a browser that takes your webapp usage seriously. Firefox does not have resizeable text areas out of the box (though an extension can buy you that feature), and neither does IE8.
Drag and Drop Tabs: While you can rearrange tabs in Firefox by dragging and dropping them in your tab bar, Chrome and Safari take the drag and drop tab concept a step further by letting you drag and drop tabs outside your browser window to create a new window (or back in to merge into the existing window). Firefox can drag one window into another but it does not create a new one by dragging a tab to the desktop. (It just creates a shortcut to the web page).
Bookmark, History, Password Syncing: While extensions like Foxmarks and Weave can sync your browser data over the internet between computers, some browsers are starting to ship with browser data sync built in—like Opera 9.6, ensuring that your passwords, bookmarks, and history are all hooked up no matter what computer you're working on. My guess is that this feature will come to Chrome at some point, a resurrection of the abandoned Google Browser Sync project.
Think some of these are a long time in coming? Others, overkill? Cast your vote below.
If you were designing the browser of the future, what features would it include? Let us know in the comments.