Private mode back in Firefox 3.1 plans

Following Chrome’s release, Mozilla has felt the pressure of the competition and put private mode back in Firefox 3.1’s feature list in second level priority, and on track for Beta 1, the next development release (around mid-October).

In private mode, all user activity involving data such as searches, visited web pages, downloads, cached pages, credentials passed to restricted sites, etc. is discarded once the user returns to normal mode. Despite being infamously well known as “porn mode” there are many other valid use cases. As stated in Mozilla Wiki.

For instance, users may wish to begin a private browsing session to research a medical condition, or plan a surprise vacation or birthday party for a loved one. Use cases will range from users cheating on their spouse, to users buying engagement rings. Given the breadth of our user base, specific use cases are likely to be extremely varied.

With Chrome’s InCognito and Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2’s InPrivate, introduced in the last couple of weeks, lacking a private mode option by targeted year’s end release, would put Firefox in one obvious disadvantage.

Safari added a private mode with version 2, about three years ago.

“Recent development with Chrome will likely make finally getting private browsing mode shipped a priority for 3.1.”, commented Mozilla’s Alex Faaborg shortly after Chrome’s release in the tracking bug.

According to Firefox’s Private Mode specifications, the implementation will attempt to do as much in-memory data storage as possible to provide the most reliable purge. Authenticated sessions will be lost when entering or exiting private mode.

Additional interfaces will be provided for extension developers so they can tweak their extensions to honor the private mode.

There’s still no definition on what the UI will be, but at least one important requirement is that it shouldn’t be evident for people other than the user that he is in private mode. Chrome for example changes the color and even adds a cute but tell-tale spy image.

I would personally prefer a more discrete but evident (for the user) indicator similar to IE8’s (shown below).

There are already experimental builds that include the necessary back end, mainly developed by Ehsan Akhgari, so it shouldn’t be long before it lands in the nightly builds.

There’s also no word if it will have some fancy name like Chrome’s InCognito or IE’s InPrivate.

With Firefox implementation, private browsing will become a standard feature for browsers just as tabbed browsing, antiphishing and antimalware protection, web feeds handling, secure connections notifications, the search bar, and others we’ve seen in the last few years. Let’s hope Browser Wars II lasts much longer than the first one!

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