Developers Take Firefox 3 for Test Drive

Mozilla has posted the first public beta of Firefox 3. At the same time, however, Mozilla is warning that the beta is for testing purposes only and not for casual users. Because this beta is targeted at testing core functionality added to the browser, Mozilla notes that some of Firefox 3 Beta 1 is still a bit “rough around the edges.” For example, many Firefox 2 add-ons don’t work properly with this first beta.

Still, early testers seem pleased with the promise of Firefox 3, which is packed with new features and tweaks alike. The latest version is based on the new Gecko 1.9 Web rendering platform, which has been under development for the past 27 months, Mozilla said, and includes nearly 2 million lines of code changes that fix more than 11,000 issues.

“Gecko 1.9 includes some major re-architecting for performance, stability, correctness and code simplification and sustainability,” Mozilla noted. “Firefox 3 has been built on top of this new platform resulting in a more secure, easier to use, more personal product with a lot under the hood to offer Web site and Firefox add-on developers.”

New Features

“The most important, I think, by far will be the improvements in memory handling and performance and the support for offline browser applications,” Stephen O’Grady, an industry analyst for RedMonk, told LinuxInsider.

Mozilla plugged more than 300 individual memory leaks and added a new XPCOM (cross platform component object model) cycle collector that completely eliminates many more, it said. Firefox developers are continuing to work on optimizing memory use, Mozilla added, by releasing cached objects more quickly and reducing fragmentation. As for performance, major architectural changes are building the foundation for speed increases in future betas.

Support for offline browser applications is built into Firefox 3, but Web sites will need to offer offline support on their sites in order for it to work. The same goes for organizations building Web apps that will be utilized by employees using Firefox 3 offline.

Built-In Security

Firefox 3 Beta 1 includes a handful of new security features designed to help end users recognize problematic sites. With a single click, users can now see who owns a Web site, and future versions will display Extended Validation SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate details. Built-in malware protection will warn users when they navigate to blacklisted sites known for installing viruses, spyware and trojans, and the content of pages suspected of being Web forgeries — used to capture account and identity details — no longer display to end users.

Additional improvements include more rigorous SSL certificate error notices, add-ons and plugin checks that that disable insecure updates, anti-virus integration, and Windows Vista parental control cooperation.

So Easy

Last but not least, what would Firefox be without a bunch of new and improved usability features? Firefox 3 Beta 1 boasts easier password management, simplified add-on installations, a download manager that makes it easier to find downloaded files, resumable downloading for those irritating times when a user loses an Internet connection, and the cool full-page zoom feature that enables zooming in and out of pages so that layout, text and images all scale together.

Other features include more functional tabbed browsing management and the ability to select multiple chunks of text with a handy “triple click” that automatically selects an entire paragraph. For Mac users, Firefox now also uses the built-in OS X spell checker. As a boon to navigating the wide, wide Web, a new Places feature lets users quickly access recent bookmarks and tagged pages.

There are a few big known issues yet to be worked out. For example, Yahoo Mail and Windows Live Mail don’t yet work with Firefox 3, and Google Maps has problems printing turn-by-turn directions. Windows Vista users have to work a bit to get a Windows Media Player plug-in — not the application — in order to view Windows Media content with Firefox 3 Beta 1, and OS X Leopard users get an extra File menu.

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