First Look – Wouldn’t it be great to have an automated backup of your complete Firefox environment up in the cloud? What about pushing your entire browsing history, those extension settings, cookies, saved passwords and open tabs from the cloud to any number of authorized computers? What about having the same, up-to-date browsing environment on any computer around the globe? Well, it’s entirely possible: A Mozilla Labs project dubbed Weave makes it very easy to backup your browser settings and data and remain in sync wherever you go.
You may have heard about Weave before. There were some rumors that this feature would become available in Firefox 3, but we later heard that Weave could be delayed significantly and debut with Firefox 4 instead. If you are interested to see how Weave will look like and work, you can access an alpha version that has been made available yesterday.
Obvious successful first-generation cloud services are web applications such as Google Docs and there is a big discussion what other services may follow. If you ask us, we would be putting our bets on new and innovative ideas to store and backup critical data, as we tend to move more and more of our lives into the digital world. Mozilla is how clouds could work for browser data such as contacts, browser bookmarks, calendars and other information stored by the user. These information bits are lightweight and can be easily sent to a storage service in the cloud and then pushed back to any number of networked devices or authorized computers. Mac OS X users, by the way, have had such seamless sync solution available for years in form of the .Mac online service, which recently was re-branded to MobileMe.
First Look: A killer feature for Firefox 3
When you first try to download the Weave extension, Firefox may decline a download due to verification of the website certificate. In that case, you need to import the certificate to allow Firefox access the secure Mozilla Services web site. After you have downloaded and installed the extension, Firefox will restart and the Weave setup will ask you to sign in create a new Weave account. You will need to select a username, password and an additional passphrase used to protect your information in the cloud.
When your account is created, you can configure Weave (Tools/Weave/Preferences) and determine which Firefox content you want to send to the cloud and synchronize with other machines. Currently you can choose to synchronize your Firefox bookmarks, your browsing history, tabs, cookies, saved passwords and saved forms. In the near future, the software is expected to extensions, themes, search plug-ins and browser micro-formats as well. Also, new Firefox content formats will be offered in the future as Weave supports add-ons that can extend on the initial content it recognizes. For example, someone may create a Weave add-on to synchronize your Google toolbar settings.
Sync your Firefox environment seamlessly
The initial sync of the Firefox content that had accumulated on my test machine over the past two years was completed within a few moments. After the first sync, you continue to use the browser normally but the extension works in the background to automatically push any changes to the cloud. For example, whenever you add a bookmark, cookies or open a new tab, Weave pushes these changes to the cloud. You will start to appreciate what cloud can do for you if you don’t have access to your main computer for whatever reason.
Since the last synced copy is kept in the cloud, you just have to install Firefox on your new machine, install Weave, authorize the new computer and let Weave pull all your Firefox content back from the cloud. You can continue browsing where you stopped, up to the last tab opened. You are free to authorize as many machines as you like.
Weave is a very early alpha version (0.2), which means you should expect lots of bugs. Mozilla advises users to backup their Firefox profile prior to installing Weave so that you could restore the browser settings should anything go wrong. That said, we believe this is a fantastic feature and we hope that we don’t have to wait for Firefox 4 to see it in final. When the developers iron out bugs and ship the final version, we are certain that Weave will become an instant hit with users. Even at this early stage, it’s such a huge time saver and incredibly convenient.