It may be a beta, but for me, it’s working better than the real thing. Firefox 3 Beta 3 was released several days ago, and I’ve been using it since. You can read a more detailed list of feature additions and changes from Firefox 2 over here, but I’d like to touch on a few of the features that have had an impact on my usage habits.
Memory, memory, memory. I’ve always hated how Firefox 2 would consume upwards of 300-400MB after surfing the internet for a day. One of the easiest ways to demonstrate this is to go to Google Maps’ Street View and move around for a couple minutes. What’s worse, closing the tabs don’t have any effect. Memory usage stays up there and doesn’t come back down until you close and restart the browser. Mozilla’s stuck with its line of “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature” mantra over the terrible memory leaks in the past, but have actively reduced the memory footprint and memory leaks in Firefox 3.
With computers coming with more and more memory these days, some will argue that a few hundred megabytes of memory usage isn’t all that significant; however, for usability, it makes a huge difference. After using Firefox 2 for a day, it really starts to get sluggish. Opening and closing tabs is no longer instantaneous and even switching between tabs can skip a beat. Now, the interface is significantly quicker – I’m certain at least part of that has to do with the vastly improved memory management. Now, after a day of surfing with 10-15 tabs open, I’m barely reaching over 100MB of memory usage.
Improved security is a cornerstone of Firefox 3. A list of sites known for distributing malware is being served by Google, triggering a warning when a user navigates to a listed site. Furthermore, to prevent phishing, secure sites such as PayPal will display their credentials in the favicon button. Finally, dodgy site security certificates now pop up in a full-screen warning, requiring some intrusive user interaction to access the site in question. Security has always been a balancing act between protecting the user and limiting the annoyance factor. I think Firefox 3 has hit on a fairly good balance.
User interface changes have also been a widely touted improvement for Firefox 3. I’m a little more reserved on the changes. First, the icons and button designs don’t really affect me – the only time I see the default icons is after a fresh install, before I apply another theme. Sure, the new default theme does look a bit better, but I’d imagine anyone who wasn’t happy with Firefox 2’s default theme has since found a theme they are happy with.
Another big change can be found in the address bar. Start typing and a list of choices will appear, and winnow itself down, based on recently visited sites, your bookmarks and tags. The autocomplete also displays the name of the page, as opposed to only the URL. This helps in identifying a page, if you don’t know the actual URI. For my browsing habits, the auto-suggest is actually slightly intrusive – when I type something in the address bar, I expect a certain order for the resulting drop-down, which isn’t necessarily the case with the new system. I’m sure after getting used to it, it will make the address bar much more effective, but for now, it’s a bit of an annoyance.
Firefox 3 passes the Acid2 web standards test. Along with Opera 9 and the future Internet Explorer 8, standards support should get a lot stronger in the web browser space in the near future. That’s good news for web developers (I’ll tentatively lump myself in that category). Bookmarks, history and tags include a more complete search function so you can find exactly what you’re looking for a bit quicker. The majority of the extensions I use with Firefox 2 are not compatible with Firefox 3 Beta 3, but thankfully, the essential ones, including Adblock Plus and Tab Mix Plus both have compatible versions. The Tab Mix Plus listed at the official Firefox add-ons site isn’t supported, but a modified version, which you can find here, is working fine for me.
So seeing as my main issue with Firefox, memory management, has now been addressed, I’m very happy to be using Firefox again, after a brief stint with Internet Explorer 7 and IE7Pro.