Firefox 3: Reviewed

Posted on: June 20th, 2008 by alemieux

Now that the Firefox Download Day has quieted down (they got 8 million downloads in 24 hours), we can reflect a little on the latest and ‘greatest’ browser. Installing Firefox on my PC was painless. After downloading and launching the installer, I was prompted to update all of my add-ons and lost one, which I hardly used [some add-ons are incompatible with this release], and Firebug, which I’ll have to re-install. On the Mac side, it was also pretty painless, but I also lost Firebug. Fortunately, re-installing add-ons is really simple in Firefox 3. The new Add-ons Manager, makes it really easy to install and find other add-ons.

On the PC side, the interface is nice and clean with little touches to the UI, including some new buttons for navigation. On the Mac side, the interface has a lot more contrast than the last release and looks more like a native OSX app.

Performance-wise, on both platforms, Mozilla’s claim that Firefox is faster seems to be substantiated. It feels a lot quicker than the last release. There’s less of a hesitation for pages to load. The new location bar, toted as "Awesome Bar" by Mozilla, is a little less than that.  When typing an address into the location bar, relavant matches are returned as possible choices for surfing. This feature is like the search feature found on Apple’s website. Type in a phrase like MacBook and a list of possible results appears even before you commit the search. I find the ‘Awesome Bar’ to be less than that, simply because the possible results don’t seem to be that relavant or of interest to me. According to Mozilla, the Awesome Bar "learns as people use it, adapting to user preferences and offering better fitting matches over time." Maybe it will get better over time.

The new Library houses all of your bookmarks, history, and Tags. Tags aren’t necessarily new to Firefox, but now they are more useable. To access the Library, go to the Bookmarks menu to Organize Bookmarks. Select a bookmark and enter a value into the Tags field. For example, I entered Flash as a tag for Ultrashock and FlashKit. Now when I want to visit Flash sites, all I have to do is type the tag Flash into the location bar and those bookmarks will appear.

One click bookmarking (that’s the star icon in the location bar) is now available. So, you visit a site for the first time. The star is hollow. Click the star and it becomes yellow, which means the site is bookmarked for future reference. Click the star again and you can categorize the bookmark so it goes somewhere meaningful in your bookmarks folder. So, it may be called one click bookmarking, but if you click only once, the bookmark will be created, but it will go into a folder called Unsorted Bookmarks.

Another new feature in the location bar is the ability to click on the favicon for any site to find out more information about that site. You can instantly get detailed information about a site, like it’s web standards status, encoding, media – or where all of the images are linked to. You can even then save those images quickly with the click of a button. You can set any permissions settings, like pop-up blocking, and cookies. Finally, you can view security features for the site you are on, including all saved cookies and saved passwords.

The new Password Manager is unobtrusive, compared to the previous version. In Firefox 2, a big dialog would hit you over the head and ask if you wanted Firefox to remember a password after you entered it.In Firefox 3, a slim bar appears below the top of the viewport with the same options.

This is not an exhaustive review, so you can learn more about all of the new features here: http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/features/#full-zoom

All-in-all, I think Firefox 3 is a welcome upgrade with some very user-centric features that continue to make it stand, head and shoulders above Internet Explorer. It’s pretty clear to see that Firefox is becoming the standard bearer for browsers, innovating new features that empower the user – whether the user is a typical surfer, serious web user, or even developer – there’s enough features here for everyone.

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