Mozilla premieres final Firefox 3.0

It's 'not a game changer,' says analyst, but 'definitely improved'

As promised, Mozilla Corp. today launched Firefox 3.0, a major update to the open-source browser that adds a new search tool, anti-hacking protection and revamped bookmarking.

The first major revision of Firefox since late 2006, Firefox 3.0 was posted to Mozilla's servers at 1 p.m. Eastern time.

As it has done before, Mozilla tried to ward off downloaders who had jumped the gun earlier Tuesday by grabbing the final code from the company's public FTP servers. "Downloading them directly can harm our ability to distribute Firefox efficiently," said Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's product lead, in a brief message posted to the company's developer center. Those public FTP servers were inaccessible throughout the morning, apparently overloaded.

Mozilla is promoting Firefox 3.0's availability with an attempt to set a world record for downloads. As part of the promotion, the company has set up with a Web page where users have pledged to retrieve the browser today.

Firefox 3.0 first entered public testing with an Alpha 1 release in December 2006. The first of several beta versions was released in November 2007. The browser moved to release candidate stage last month. The third and final release candidate hit Mozilla's servers less than a week ago.

At one point, Mozilla had set a goal of launching Firefox 3.0 by late 2007.

The updated browser features a redesigned address bar -- dubbed the "Awesome Bar" by some -- that can be used to search for previously-visited pages using keywords or characters in either the URL or the page title. It also has a Google-powered anti-malware blocker that warns users before they reach a site hosting malicious code, as well as an enhanced tool for handling bookmarks and keeping track of the user's browsing history.

The browser's performance has also been improved, and its memory footprinthas been reduced -- Firefox has long been drubbed for memory leaks.

"Firefox 3.0 is evolutionary, not revolutionary," said Ray Valdes, a Gartner Inc. browser analyst. "It's definitely improved, but it doesn't seal the deal. It's not a game-changer."

What would have made Firefox 3.0 a game-changer, added Valdes, was if it had addressed enterprise concerns, including manageability and deployment issues. The strength of Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer in businesses, Valdes said, means that Firefox won't be unseat IE as the world's most popular browser.

According to the most recent data from Net Applications Inc., Firefox accounted for 18.4% of all browsers used in May, ranking it second behind IE (73.8%) and ahead of Apple Inc.'s Safari (6.3%).

"Firefox has gotten the low-hanging fruit," said Valdes, who predicted that Mozilla's browser will have a harder time picking up additional market share than it had reaching its current No. 1 spot.

Firefox 3.0 can be downloaded from Mozilla's site, or the special today-only record-setting site. (See "Mozilla servers overwhelmed by rush for Firefox 3.0".)

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