After a brief delay, Firefox 4 Beta 1 was officially released to the public for all operating systems this afternoon. Mozilla has deviated from their all too predictable design and created a browser that owes more than a few nods to Google’s Chrome, the fastest growing browser on the market. Besides the inspired, superficial changes, this new version also marks an upgrade to the software that renders HTML pages. Firefox 4 is a very different beast from 3.6 and the overall impression is that Mozilla means business.

Right off the bat, the new tab layout is a grand change in design. Does it shamelessly copy Chrome’s design? Perhaps. Does it make the browser more intuitive or useful? Kind of. What can be said is that the new design does feel like a breath of fresh air. It’s quick, clean, and increasingly useful. Did I mention that Mozilla also adopted the ability to search from the address field? While Google is either flattered or miffed by the blatant imitation, you would be hard pressed to criticize Mozilla for mimicking Chrome. In such a competitive market, you have to learn from competition if you want to stand a chance at success.

Even in the beta stage, Firefox 4 has marked improvements in browser speed and compatibility with HTML5/CSS3. The new rendering method replaces the dated Gecko parser, improving rendering speed by a reported 20% . After toying around with the Beta for a few hours, there is a noticeable difference in reaction time and page loading that feels snappy in comparison to version 3.6. Like Chrome, Firefox 4 now supports WebM video, fueling the fight for an internet that does not have to default to flash for its video needs. With support for an array of platforms, WebM has bright future ahead, and it is wise of Mozilla to support the format this early in its lifespan.

Firefox 4 Beta 1 in an impressive release that gives hope to fans of the former champ of browsers. It is too early to declare a winner in the browser war, but it is safe to say that Mozilla has a better shot than ever. Keep an eye out for the final version of Firefox 4 scheduled for release this November.