Firefox 3: It's Here, Faster and Better–But Not Perfect Yet

Mozilla is out with the first beta version of Firefox 3 in Windows, Mac and Linux versions. This release brings a number of solid improvements, better password management, easier paths to installing extensions, one-click bookmarking, more security improvements, and very noticeable performance enhancements. If you’re one of the Firefox faithful, though, note that this first beta is a developer preview version, and is not finalized enough to do things like work with your current extensions. During installation (I’ve been testing the Windows version), I got this message along with a list of my already installed extensions: “The following add-ons are not compatible with this version of Firefox and have been disabled…” I’ve also experienced occasional browser crashes, but Mozilla stresses that this first beta is only a testing version.

Those caveats aside, I can see that many Firefox users will appreciate the enhancements in the new version 3. This version marks a platform change for the browser. It is based on the new Gecko 1.9 Web rendering platform, which Mozilla claims has been in development for 27 months and fixes more than 11,000 issues. Page rendering, in particular, is noticeably faster in this new version.

For a complete laundry list of the improvements in Firefox 3 beta 1, check Mozilla’s release notes. Since many people use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer due to the security features, and the hacker-unfriendly lower market share the browser has, they will probably appreciate the new security enhancements. I particularly liked the warnings I got when I tried to visit sites known to contain malware, like the one seen below, which blocked my access to a malware site. Other security enhancements include automatic version checking when you install extensions, and integration with anti-virus software.

Firefox Version 3 beta 1 contains numerous interface enhancements. You can do a full-page zoom either from the View menu or by hitting Ctrl++. The layout, text and images adjusted and rendered very well in my tests. Also, in previous versions of Firefox, if you opened a folder of bookmarks in tabs new tabs would overwrite old ones—an annoyance. In this new version, the new tabs are appended. The new version also courteously prompts you to save tabs before you exit a session.

There are some new organizational items to be aware of in Firefox 3. A new Smart Places folder lets you get quick access to your recently bookmarked and tagged pages, and work with them much more flexibly. You can do advanced searches of your browsing history and bookmarks and save your frequent searches in dedicated folders. There is also a new button in the form of a star next to Firefox’s location bar. With one click on the star button, you can quickly bookmark the page you’re viewing. With two clicks on the star you can file and tag the page.

It looks like this new version will have no problem getting current Firefox users to upgrade, once it’s mature. The page rendering is significantly faster, and the interface enhancements and the Smart Places features make sessions easier. I am a little miffed that I can’t use my favorite extensions with this beta version, but it’s the first beta, and I suspect I’ll be able to incorporate them soon.

Do you plan to upgrade to Firefox 3 beta 1 right away, or wait? Have you used it yet?


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