As Firefox revs its engines, a new browser is planned

The Tor Project launches its own Firefox-based software for anonymous Web browsing.

Mozilla's Firefox 4 may be the browser's most popular release yet, but the project is already looking ahead with a new just-in-time (JIT) compiler for JavaScript that promises to outperform the software's current JägerMonkey technology.

Dubbed IonMonkey, the new compiler is designed to enable "many new JavaScript optimizations," according to the project's wiki page.

"In particular IonMonkey will feature much more organized and explicit data structures typical of advanced compilers," the project team explains. "This goal of being clean and flexible will be extremely important for future optimization work and experimentation."

The Tor Browser Bundle

What kinds of improvements IonMonkey brings about remain to be seen. In the meantime, however, plans are afoot to create a fork of Firefox called the Tor Browser, bringing yet another player into the already competitive browser arena.

For those who aren't already familiar with it, Tor (short for "The Onion Router") is a global network of servers that offers anonymous Web surfing by randomly routing traffic through multiple servers, thereby masking a user's true IP address. Currently, those who want to use Tor for anonymous surfing must install the Torbutton extension in their Firefox browser as well as additional Tor software.

A toggle system allows users to surf anonymously or normally through Firefox, depending on whether they have the Tor software turned off or on.

'The Average User Is Horribly Confused'

Now, however, the Tor Project wants to do away with the Torbutton as an independent add-on and offer a new, Tor Browser bundle instead.

"The average user is horribly confused by both the toggle model and the need to install additional software into Firefox (or conversely, the need to *also* install Tor software onto their computers after they install Torbutton)," wrote developer Mike Perry in a blog post on Monday. "I also think that the average user is not likely to use this software safely. They are likely to log in to sites over Tor that they shouldn't, forget which tor mode they are in, and forget which mode certain tabs were opened under. These are all nightmare situations for anonymity and privacy."

Maintaining the Torbutton software has also been difficult in the wake of updates and bug fixes in Firefox itself, Perry noted.

For Linux, Mac and Windows

Instead, the free Tor Browser will be a separate browser that includes Torbutton by default.

"We will no longer recommend that people use Torbutton without Tor Browser," Perry explained. "Torbutton will be removed from addons.mozilla.org, and the Torbutton download page will clearly state that it is for experts only. If serious unfixed security issues begin to accumulate against the toggle model, we will stop providing Torbutton xpis at all."

The self-contained Tor Browser bundle lets you use Tor on Linux, Windows or Mac OS X, and it can run off of a USB flash drive. It can be downloaded from the Tor Project's site. This video explains the premise in more detail.

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