Only a short time ago, we had to wait over a year for a major new release of any web browser. Often longer. There was a huge gap between Firefox 3 and Firefox 4, with many alphas, betas and numerous release candidates. That was before Google changed the game with Chrome, with rapid releases, quickly switching between stable, beta, dev and Canary. Recently, Mozilla decided to change the way they would release a new version of Firefox, somewhat mimicking the Chrome release schedule. You can now download a stable version of Firefox, currently v5, Aurora which will quickly become v6 beta and even a Nightly, which is currently v7 alpha.

Firefox 5 is now the stable final release and a relatively minor update to Mozilla's flagship browser, though still definitely worth the download.

Once installed you'll find it difficult to spot any visible changes. The Do Not Track privacy feature introduced in Firefox 4 has been relocated so it's a little easier to spot (Tools > Options > Privacy, where it really should have been in the first place) but that's about it.

Perhaps the most significant single new addition is support for CSS animations, a technology which makes it easy for developers to create simple web animations, even if they don't know JavaScript.

The real benefit of Firefox 5 comes in a host of performance-related tweaks, though. Mozilla talk about "Improved canvas, JavaScript, memory, and networking performance"; we ran a few tests on a Windows 7 system and confirmed that there really are some welcome gains. When compared with version 4.01, Firefox 5 loaded 20% faster, used less RAM and required significantly fewer resources than the previous version. There's still plenty of work to do, but if you've been disappointed with Firefox's performance of late then give this version a try - it should run much more smoothly on most systems.

Firefox 5.0.1 ships with a couple of fixes for Mac OS users:

- Worked around an issue in Mac OS X 10.7 that would cause Firefox to crash
- Worked around an issue caused by Apple's "Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 5" where the Java plugin would not be loaded

For more detailed information, view the Firefox 5.0.1 release notes.

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The next generation Firefox is here and, whilst there are performance and network improvements, this is more of a minor upgrade than a major refresh.