Firefox 3 is Out

Well, it’s been quite a while coming, but Firefox 3 has finally reached the masses. The timing is interesting, as it is coming out on the heels of the Opera 9.5 release last week.

Firefox 3 has numerous changes over version 2, including:

Places
When adding bookmarks in Firefox 3, you now have the option to add tags to the item as well. This is so useful, as tags are more flexible than folders. There is also the Library, which combines your browsing history and bookmark manager.

AwesomeBar
Connected to the Places feature, the AwesomeBar replaces the address bar, so that when you start typing there, a drop down will matches from your history and bookmarks, based both on URL and page title. Pretty slick, but it is taking some getting used to. It does learn from your typing and surfing, so as time goes on, the displayed results will be more relevant.

User Interface
The UI got refreshed also, with a different default look for each operating System. The Linux one uses the native icons and colours, and looks good. I am uncertain about the Windows (XP) theme – I don’t really like that keyhole” look of the back/forward buttons, and prefer the default theme from Firefox 2.

Tabs
I use tabs heavily in Firefox (I remember when you had to use a plugin to enable that functionality in Firefox 1.5), and welcome improvements in this area. Firefox 3 offers to save open tabs when you close the browser, and reloads them when the browser is opened again. When adding tabs, or moving from one to another, the horizontal scrolling is nice and smooth. You can easily duplicate a current tab by holding the CTRL key and click-dragging the tab to an empty space in the tab bar.

Download Manger
The download manager got some great features this time: you can pause and resume downloads, search downloads, and delete, locate, cancel or retry listed items. There is also a status bar panel that shows current download status, and opens the manager if clicked.

Add-Ons
You can now search for add-ons from the manager, without having to go to the official site. There is also a plugin section to manage multimedia plugins such as Flash, Quicktime, etc. With a browser upgrade comes the need to update add-ons as well, which was an iffy situation for many add-ons out there. Fortunately, I didn’t have any trouble with the bunch that I use, including Firebug, HTML Validator, and Web Developer Toolbar.

Standards Support
Firefox made some leaps in support for CSS. This is shown by the fact that it passes the Acid2 test, which FF2 did not, and partway there for Acid3.

Performance
Firefox 2 was not bad, but it did get seem to slow down after having been kept open for some time, especially if a decent number of tabs are being used. The memory usage would continue ramping up until the browser was closed and restarted – this was a commonly-known issue. FF 2 would also sometimes get bogged down on JavaScript-heavy pages. Fortunately, FF3 seems to have fixed these issues: it is very responsive and quick to display and refresh webpages, even JavaScript driven ones. I haven’t exactly done benchmarks, but Firefox 3 seems to about equal with Opera 9.5 for speed and responsiveness.

Overall
Well, there’s much more to Firefox 3 than this little list, but these items are the most relevant to me. Despite being uncertain about the AwesomeBar and the new default theme, I think this is a good step forward for the browser.

Apparently the folks at Mozilla are already working on plans for Firefox 3.1 (Shireteko), expected later this year, and doing some initial preparation for version 4!