Mozilla has released the first beta version of Firefox 4, its updated browser that offers new features like a revised menu layout, more screen space for web pages, and more HTML 5 HD video support.

Firefox 4 is earning praise for some of its updates, such as its improved security and more HTML 5 functionality, Firefox 4 scored 198 out of 300 points on the HTML 5 test page, but not everyone is pleased. Mozilla is being criticised for borrowing features from competing browsers like Chrome and Opera. Nevertheless, Firefox 4 still manages to put its own stamp on each new feature, and I expect regular Firefox users will be very happy with most of the changes found in Firefox 4.

Let's dive in and take a closer look:

Firefox Button

For Windows 7 and Vista users, the new version of Firefox does away with the regular menu categories across the top of the browser window. Instead, menu items have been consolidated under a new button on the upper left hand side. Mozilla has also rearranged and removed some of the menu options used in previous version of Firefox. Menu options like Edit, Tools, and Help are gone, and things like your toolbars, add-ons and layouts are now filed under the Customise menu. Some of the more redundant user options such as stop and reload are also gone since most users are more likely to use the new unified stop/reload button instead.

Firefox 4

Firefox 4 beta 1 has also removed the downloads and private browsing options. However, you can still access both functions using their keyboard shortcuts: ctrl+shift+P for private browsing and ctrl+J for downloads. If you don't like the new menu set up, you can get rid of the Firefox Button and switch back to traditional menus by clicking Firefox>Customise>Menu Bar.

Tabs on Top

The Firefox Button works nicely with the new tabs-on-top format to give you more screen space for viewing web pages. For now, tabs on top by default are only available for Windows users. But Mac OS X users can choose tabs on top as a layout option by right clicking on the toolbar. But I wouldn't recommend you try it as the tabs on top layout in OS X is not very attractive, and Mozilla says this is going to improve in future beta versions.

Firefox 4