Firefox 3.0, which went final in mid-June, was meant to have a privacy mode similar to what Microsoft promised today for IE8, but the feature was pulled as the browser made its run toward completion. Beltzner wouldn't put a timetable on the enhancements, saying that he couldn't guarantee they would make it into Firefox 3.1.
Ari Schwartz, the deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a non-profit policy group in the US, said moves such as Microsoft's are important, not because they are new technologies, but because they put tools in the hands of more Internet users.
"The key part is getting privacy tools into the browser," said Schwartz, "rather than as add-ons or extensions. Microsoft's announcement is significant not because it's a major technological breakthrough, but because it's a breakthrough into making it easier for users to have real control over their privacy."
The CDT, said Schwartz, has talked with every browser developer about adding more privacy features to their applications, and was happy to see progress. Of the most-used browsers, only Apple's Safari currently has a privacy mode. "But we'll have to wait to see how easy it is to use," he cautioned, talking about IE8's InPrivate tools.
Beltzner, meanwhile, echoed Schwartz on the need for a more granular approach to browsing privacy -- they both noted that the problem exists on shared computers in places such as schools or Internet cafes -- as he wondered if the tools would be used by mainstream surfers. "What we're seeing in Firefox is that people want their browsers to remember more, not less," he said, citing the work Mozilla did on Firefox 3.0's location bar to add search capabilities so users could retrieve previously-visited sites.
Microsoft has not set a date for IE8 Beta 2's release, saying only that it would unveil the browser before the end of August. Company executives have said that the final version of IE8 will launch sometime this year.