Beta Watch: Firefox 3.5 Beta 4

firefox1Last week, Mozilla released Firefox 3.5 Beta 4 as a public preview, and I duly downloaded it for a look-see. I had tried earlier beta builds of Firefox 3.1 and 3.5, but hadn’t been favorably impressed, and soon reverted to using either the latest final update of Firefox 3, or lately Camino 1.6, with its Mac-dedicated Cocoa-based GUI on top of the Firefox Gecko browser engine, and which seems to be better-optimized for the Mac than cross-platform Firefox.

Firefox 3.5 Beta 4 is the sixth development milestone and fourth beta release of what will become Firefox 3.5, the next version of the Firefox Web browser. While this release is considered to be stable, Mozilla says that it is intended for developers and members of the testing community to use for early evaluation and feedback — for example, don’t expect all your plugins and add-ons to work properly with this beta. That’s not a problem for me since I don’t use many plugins, and one that I do, WeatherBug, works fine with 3.5.

Firefox 3.5 Beta 4 is based on the Gecko 1.9.1 rendering platform, which has been under development for the past 10 months, and incorporates many “under-the-hood” changes over the previous version, supporting new web technologies, improving performance and ease of use, and adding new features, some of which are:

  • Improved tools for controlling your private data, including a Private Browsing Mode and the updated Clear Recent History function (in the Tools menu) to keep your browsing habits a secret.
  • Better performance and stability with the new TraceMonkey JavaScript engine.
  • The ability to provide Location Aware Browsing using web standards for geolocation.
  • Support for native JSON, and web worker threads.
  • Improvements to the Gecko layout engine, including speculative parsing for faster content rendering.
  • Support for new web technologies such as: HTML5 and elements, downloadable fonts and other new CSS properties, JavaScript query selectors, HTML5 offline data storage for applications, and SVG transforms.

New stuff you can do with Firefox 3.5:

  • Tear tabs off the tab bar to create new windows, and drag and drop them from one Firefox window to another.
  • Watch a video in your browser without needing any plugins or external media players.
  • Control the Smart Location Bar results with special characters.

All to the good, although nothing to get up in the night and write home about, and there are no interface changes I could discern. What I really wanted to check out is whether basic performance had improved. Living and working in an area where broadband is not yet available, browser speed is critical for me. Previous builds of Firefox 3.1/3.5 had proved sluggish on my setup compared with other browsers.

Unfortunately, that pattern remains consistent with Firefox 3.5 Beta 4, which I persevered with for several days, but finally got fed up with and switched back to Camino 1.6.7, which is gratifyingly lively (so to speak in the dialup context) and stable.

The final version of Firefox 3.5 is anticipated for release later this year, perhaps before the end of Q2. Hopefully, they’ll be able to inject some √Člixir de Lapin between now and then.

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