It’s been a year and a half since Mozilla shipped Firefox 3 Alpha 1, and what we saw initially wasn’t very breathtaking. For this first milestone release Mozilla focused on backend improvements that would, in the long run, make the browser a better competitor in a world that is largely dominated by Internet Explorer. Fast forward to the final release of Firefox 3 yesterday and we’ve got ourselves a rich browser that I believe Firefox users will embrace with open arms.
Firefox 3 has its sights set on Internet Explorer as it comes barreling through with over 15,000 updates. There have been enhancements to performance, stability, rendering, security, bookmarking, and much more that makes this the best version of Firefox yet. For the first time we’re going to list out all of Firefox 3’s best features for those of you who are jumping on the bandwagon for the very first time, and we’ll even take a brief look at the browser’s performance.
–Table of Contents–
In this article we’re focusing on several different aspects of the Firefox 3 browser, and we thought it might be easier for you to navigate if you had a table of contents. Here are the main topics that we’re going to cover:
One of the most frequently discussed aspects of Firefox 3 is the fact that it ships with a handful of different themes that are all customized to the operating system you’re using. They’ve got one for Vista, Linux (varies depending on distribution used), Mac, and Windows XP. Each one focuses on trying to make the browser appear as though it was designed specifically for that operating system. There is, of course, some debate as to whether Mozilla succeeded in doing so.
Firefox 3 themes, from top to bottom: Vista, Linux, Mac, XP
The theme changes go beyond just a few changed icons, too. As you can tell in the screenshot above there are some rather drastic differences between each of the themes. A good example of that is the address bar and search box which have rounded corners on some operating systems, and don’t on others.
As you begin to dive a little deeper you’ll notice that the OS-specific skinning impacts more than the browser’s main window. Everything from the settings to managing bookmarks have all been designed to fit in with the general appearance of your operating system.
We’re not going to dive deep into the performance realm today because that’s something we plan on exploring more in the future. One thing that we can say is that the performance hasn’t changed much since our last extensive test, especially in the memory usage department. Firefox 3 still knocks the socks off of the competitors when it comes to minimizing the amount of memory it uses.
Security is normally one of the main ways that people try to “sell” Firefox to their friends and family. They talk about how vulnerable you could be if you’re not using Firefox, and it looks like this will continue to be a selling point even in Firefox 3. Take a look at some of the new security features it brings to the table:
- Enhanced Web Forgery Protection: Firefox will try and block any sites that are infested with malware (example site), or are trying to compromise your confidential information through a phishing attack (example site).
- Antivirus Integration: After you download a file Firefox 3 will automatically scan it using any antivirus software that you have installed on your computer.
- Vista Parental Controls: I wish Mozilla got around to integrating with Vista’s parental controls a little better, because the only thing Firefox 3 will honor are any download restrictions that have been established. That’s nice and all, but website blocking is something most parents are probably concerned about more.
While Firefox 3 has a lot of improvements that are constantly working behind the scenes, there are also some great things that you’ll want to start taking advantage of right away. Here are the main features that you surely don’t want to miss:
- Enhanced Address Bar (a.k.a. Awesome Bar): The address bar has received one of the biggest overhauls, and it now uses an intelligent algorithm to determine which results you’re likely looking for. It uses a combination of the recency and frequency of your visits to figure out what belongs at the top of the list.
- Better Download Management: The download manager in Firefox was revamped a bit, but what’s more important is that in the Status Bar of the browser you can now keep an eye on how much longer your downloads have. Plus you can resume your downloads after you’ve restart the browser.
- “Remember My Password” isn’t so annoying: I absolutely hate when a browser asks you if you want it to remember your password before you even have a chance to see if what you entered was correct. I use different passwords on different sites, and now with Firefox 3 it will popup with an information bar along the top of the browser asking if I want it to remember my password. What’s nice about that is it doesn’t interrupt the page from loading, which means you can actually see whether the login credentials you used were correct before having Firefox store that information in its database.
- Simplified Bookmarking: Bookmarking a page is now as simple as clicking on the star located in the address bar. If you click the star a second time it will let you edit details such as the name of the bookmark, the location, and even any tags that you think will help find it in the future.
- Smart Bookmarks: The Smart Bookmarks are kind of like the automatically generated music playlists that applications like iTunes create. These special bookmarks can show a listing of your most visited sites, places you recently bookmarked, and more. We’ve even put together instructions on how to create your own Smart Bookmarks in Firefox 3.
- Full Page Zoom: By default when you go to zoom in and out on a website it will now zoom the entire page instead of just increasing or decreasing the size of the text. This is more like what the other mainstream browsers do, but you can always go back to the old way of “zooming” only the text if you want.
There are also some great things that developers of websites and extensions alike will want to take advantage of. Here are some of my favorites:
- Offline support: Firefox has the ability to take a website offline so that users can still interact with it even when not connected to the Internet.
- Web-based protocol handlers: We’ve already shown you how Firefox can integrate with online services (here and here), and hopefully there will be more web applications looking to take advantage of this feature.
- Animated PNG graphics: Could this be the thing that drives animated GIF’s into the grave?
- Several new XUL elements for extension creators: Now add things like date and time pickers to your extensions.
- And much more!
Firefox 3 is undoubtedly a next generation browser, and I’m anxious to see how well this version can compete against the other top-dogs out there. Let us know in the comments what you think of it, what your favorite features are, and when/if you plan on making the leap to Firefox 3.
P.S. Keep an eye out for next Wednesday’s CyberNotes as we show you some tweaks that can help make the browser even better.