Firefox 3.0 Final has just been released today, 17th June 2008 (it’s already 18th in some countries though), and I already downloaded my copy to help establish the Firefox World Record. Now that it is installed and ready to work, I am going to review it. I’ve been using Firefox since the early 1.x versions, and I kind of saw its evolution. If I could resume Firefox 3, it would be “Shiny Search Boxes”, with respect to the glass buttons and the large number of new search boxes scattered everywhere.
Without much delay, on with the review. But first, you might consider getting your own copy here, and help with the World Record initiative (you need to download from the official mirrors of Firefox, else the download does not count!). Beware though. Some of the pages of the Mozilla website have yet to be updated, and are still showing Firefox 2.0 downloads. Also, the page is taking a significant time to load, probably considering that lots of people are currently downloading.
A word of warning. Before installing Firefox 3, make sure all your add-ons are compatible with the new Firefox. A number of my add-ons are not yet compatible with the Firefox 3 Final. Specially Tabmix Plus, which is not yet compatible. Even Unplug is not yet compatible, according to the default install. So, check beforehand, or simply backup your Firefox profile before upgrading, in case you want to revert. As you can see below, some of my extensions are not compatible with Firefox 3.0. Unfortunately, you will have to check manually via the Mozilla Addons site.
To backup your Firefox profile, you could use the FEBE extension (cross-platform) (doesn’t work with Firefox 3 Final yet), or you could use the MozBackup (Windows only) application. More info about manual profile backup is available from Mozilla, here.
Upon opening the new Firefox 3.0, you will see a changed interface as compared to the 2.0 versions. The list of immediately noticeable changes is:
- The Back button grew in size
- The buttons have glossy effects. Looks prettier now.
- The favicon is separated from the address in the address bar
- There is a star icon in the address bar which allows quick bookmarking of an address
- If you enable the “Bookmarks Toolbar”, there is a “Most Visited” buttons there now
- The tabs have a close buttons each now, though to see it, the tab must be active. This is to prevent accidental tab closure
- The tabs look slimmer though it might just be me
Note that depending on your Operating System, you might not be seeing the same interface as me. Apparently, Firefox 3 has individual themes for individual OS’s.
I specially like that star icon that allows quick bookmarking. Saves me a trip to the Bookmarks menu. The back button is now more prominent, and probably more usable. We’ll see about that in the long run. However, there is a single drop-down arrow now. So back and foreward pages were grouped in that single arrow. Strange…
Before seeing the features, I’d like to stress that add-ons problem. Not all add-ons are compatible with Firefox 3.0 Final yet. I’m specially dependent on Tabmix Plus in my daily browsing, considering that I’m one of the people who has at least 10 tabs open at any one time. Tabmix allowed me to do a number of operations, like duplicating tabs and tab size, and I’m missing these features. Before upgrading, make sure your add-ons will work, and that you are do not rely too much on those that won’t immediately work. If you are upgrading from 2.x versions, 3.0 will check for incompatibilities automatically, but that will be after the install is made. Mozilla team could have made the add-ons compatibility check before the upgrade actually takes place, and ask you if you want to continue upgrading. Duh!
On with the specific features. The File, Edit, View menus are almost the same. The Zoom submenu (in the View menu) has the Zoom Text Only feature, which is interesting for people with sight issues, allowing to preserve other elements of a page, and zoom only text. This is important considering that Firefox 3 will also zoom images and other elements when you use the Zoom feature.
The History menu has a “Recently Closed Tabs” feature which is was available in TabMix Plus, and now is available in the default install.
The Bookmarks menu underwent some radical changes, and is now much more usable. Note the “Recently Bookmarked” and “Recently Tagged” submenus. Quite useful if you want to access a site you recently bookmarked, but don’t want to fish in the Bookmarks tree. The newest feature is the re-designed “Organize Bookmarks” window, which I will call the Bookmarks Library.
The “Recently Bookmarked” , “Recently Tagged” and “Most Visited” menus/button is called the Smart Bookmarks feature of Firefox 3, which kind of allows you to create custom views of your bookmarks. You can check here and here for more info about Smart Bookmarks, how to use them, and how to create your own “views”.
It is now much more intuitive to use. A search box is now available directly to locate bookmarks. There are now more ways to sort your bookmarks, as you can see from the screenshot below. You can also check out the Columns submenu to see more details about your bookmarks. Note also the introduction of tags for bookmarks. I’m not sure if I have time to tag all of mine, but you might find it useful, and it introduces a new way of finding your bookmarks. This new Bookmarks Library is better when compared to the old version.
Still with the menus, you might want to check out the add-ons manager, which allows you to perform more actions now. Like, you can install new add-ons directly from the add-ons manager, which includes a search box. The Extensions tab is pretty much the same, except that the right-click menu has more options. Also, note the new Plugins tab, allowing you to selectively enable or disable plugins. For example, you can now easily disable the Java plugin if you wish.
The Tools – Options is almost the same as previous versions, but the new Applications tab is a nice addition, allowing you to determine how Firefox should deal with external formats like PDFs, image formats or even feeds. For example, you can have Firefox always save PDFs, and open Feed links in your favourite feed reader.
The Password Manager features a search box now, to quickly locate a site, and its corresponding password. All these search features really increase Firefox’s usability.
Coming back to the main interface, we are going to be looking at the upgraded address bar, which some call “AwesomeBar“. It’s been re-designed to better integrate with your bookmarks and history. Now, when you start typing an address, you will see past visited pages, and pages from your Bookmarks being displayed, in an auto-complete way. If you use the drop-down arrow on the address bar, you will see that the URI is now completely displayed, along with the site name. Those new features are pretty good, but I don’t like the way the address bar increased in size (2x the height for each item now!). As an example, 12 links in the address bar nearly filled up my whole screen when I use the drop-down. For people with low vertical screen resolutions, this will be a major pain.
Also, pausing your cursor in one of the links of the address bar and pressing the Delete key on your keyboard deletes the entry from the bar. This might be useful if ever you have mistyped an address and you find it in the address bar. This trick also works for other kinds of forms, like Username boxes.
Firefox 3 also brings the new Remember Password toolbar. The obtrusive Remember password box was replaced by a docked toolbar which asks you if you want the password remembered. This change allows you to continue using the site, without having to close the prompt first. When is this useful? Assume you have typed your logins, but are not sure if they are right. In previous Firefox versions, if you had clicked “Remember” and the logins were wrong, you had to manually go in the password manager, and delete them there. Then, logout, and re-input the correct details, then ask the manager to remember it. With Firefox 3, you can login successfully, then choose to Remember the password. If it is not right, then make amends, and only click the button once you are successfully logged in. That’s a very good improvement.
(Note for the shot, I cropped it a bit so that it becomes easier to fit in. The toolbar takes up the whole length of the screen in reality, and the three buttons are on the rightmost of the screen.)
It has been reported that Firefox 3 has also changed the way FTP directories are represented, making it easier to navigate, and more pleasing to the eye through the use of colour and styling. Unfortunately, I don’t have a screenshot to show it yet, but I can tell you it’s better now. Looks more user-friendly than the plain old black-and-white Index of page.
The Download Manager was also re-designed. Text links for “Pause” and “Cancel” have been iconified. There is also support for resuming downloads, which we are told, is better than for previous versions of Firefox. I tested the resume feature with some direct downloads and it works. I will have to put it to test for other applications like FTP transfers or something and see. Also, notice the Search bar introduced in the Downloads window. Quite a nice addition.
Firefox is legendary for hogging memory. Well, unfortunately with Firefox 3, it’s still pretty much the same. I have to confess that I have a number (>10) of add-ons installed, and these eat up memory, but still, with a single tab opened, Firefox eats up 62MB of memory. I then proceeded to open 10 tabs of common sites like Youtube and Wikipedia, and the memory usage increased to 112MB. Not very pretty…
I’ve not tested it, but according to reports, Firefox includes better protection against Phishing sites. I’ve got to see this with my own eyes.
Well, that would be it for my reviews. Quite a number of improvements in Firefox 3 as compared to 2.x versions. And guess what? Mozilla developers are already eyeing Firefox 3.1, expected by the end of the year. Now, if only add-ons developers could provide updates to their respective add-ons to make them Firefox 3 compatible, it would be really great to use Firefox 3 to the fullest of its capabilities. For now, I think I’ll keep 126.96.36.199, awaiting the update of my favorite add-ons, then I’ll start using 3.0.
Ps. Just for fun, type “about:robots” without quotes in the address/awesome bar. Yaay! An easter egg. Want another one? “about:mozilla”.
Some more “about” features to try out. Be careful with “about:config” though since you can really mess up your browser. Try “about:cache“, “about:license“, “about:config” for some useful Firefox-related info.
If you want to add something, feel free to use the Comments box. We’d be glad to hear what you think about the new Firefox 3 Final.
Ps. Some people have reported that they don’t like the Firefox 3 address bar (SmartBar/AwesomeBar). If you are one of them, then you can make use of the Oldbar add-on for Firefox 3 which reverts the address bar back to Firefox 2.x-like.
Other Firefox 3 reviews: (not many for now, more updates later as they come)