Firefox users have long had the capability to surf the web without leaving any cookies, URL history, or other identifying marks, given add-ons like Stealther and many others. In the next upgrade to the open-source browser, 3.1, the browser itself will offer a "Private Browsing" mode for anything you don't want shown to anyone else on your system—you know, like gift ideas! Private Browsing is enabled in the latest test builds of Firefox 3.1, so let's take a look at how it works, and what it looks like, below.
One of the most notable features of Private Browsing is that it doesn't open up a new, do-whatever window for you, a la Google Chrome. It's a more Safari-like switch you flip on, but Firefox also closes your open browser window and its tabs, saying it will remember and restore your tabs from before you entered the
porn private sphere. Definitely useful if you're heading into a pop-up heavy realm that could overtake, or cause you to angrily close, your open sites.
After you agree to close down your tabs (or it happens automatically, if you've disabled the warning pop-up), you arrive at an
about:privatebrowsing page, which spells out how Firefox (called Minefield in these early test releases) will handle your data, history, and bookmarks.
The actual browsing experience is pretty similar to standard Firefox use, although a pet peeve of mine—also present in Google Chrome and Safari—is that the address bar in "private" mode doesn't remember where you've been while you're browsing around in your secure little shell. Perhaps some users like that idea—that nobody who grabs the keyboard while your back is turned can suss out your activity—but I like the convenience of auto-fill addresses.
Speaking of over-the-shoulder measures, Firefox's Privacy Mode only inserts a subtle parentheses in the window title to indicate that you're browsing in low-key mode. Chrome's shady-investigator icon in the upper-left makes it pretty clear what you're doing, but with transparent window titles in Vista, Firefox's privacy is barely noticed.
At the moment, there's no easy switch (that I could find, any way) to start Firefox in Privacy Mode. Pointing the browser to
about:privatebrowsing doesn't actually turn the no-save feature on, but one privacy-advocating Mozilla developer wants to see that implemented in a new, more verbose "Privacy" tab in Firefox's options:
Photo from Alex Faaborg's designs for Firefox 3.1.
That's about it for Firefox 3.1's Private Browsing mode. What other features or options would you like to see implemented? Which browser has the best privacy-enhancing tools? Would you stick with Sneaker, given the choice? Tell us in the comments.