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5 Things You'll Love About Firefox 3

Firefox 3 Beta 2 shows some nifty new tools we can expect in Mozilla's next browser

By Barbara Krasnoff
December 27, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - New versions of favorite applications are always a little tricky; you want to keep up with the times without fixing what ain't broke. With that in mind, I took a look at the newly released Firefox 3 Beta 2 to see what we can look forward to when the final version ships in 2008.

Although the basic look of the browser hasn't changed, there are actually quite a few new features coming. (For a complete list, you can check out Mozilla's release notes.)

Some of the new features in Firefox 3 are not immediately obvious -- at least, not to the casual user. Among other things, Mozilla is incorporating new graphics- and text-rendering architectures in its browser layout engine (Gecko 1.9) to offer rendering improvements in CSS and SVG; adding a number of security features, including malware protection and version checks of its add-ons; and offline support for suitably coded Web applications.

Other new features -- some of which are listed here -- are more visible to end users, such as the menu bar that now appears asking if you want to save a just-entered password. Indeed, I've wondered if the browser will become top-heavy with built-in features that were already available as add-ons.

For example, Firefox 3 Beta 2 adds the ability to save your existing tabs when you close the app down, and it has enhanced the browser's ability to magnify Web pages from just affecting text to taking in the entire page -- features that are already available via the Tab Mix Plus and Image Zoom extensions. Right now, it looks like the new version will escape that particular criticism -- its memory footprint is, if anything, smaller than that of Version 2 -- but time alone will tell.

Incidentally, if you'd like to try out the new beta, feel free -- but be aware that this is a beta version in the traditional sense, not the sort of eternal beta you get with, say, Google Docs. As a result, there is as of yet no support for current add-ons. (Correction: There are some extensions, such as Adblock Plus, that will work with Firefox 3 Beta 2 -- but you should still be cautious.) And there are still a few serious glitches -- for example, you're going to get an error message if you try to use Yahoo's newer e-mail format. (According to Mozilla's bug report, this is a problem on Yahoo's end -- but whoever is responsible, as of this writing, it doesn't work.)

All that being said, here are the five new and/or enhanced features in Firefox 3 Beta 2 that most caught my attention:

1. Easier downloads. While the older Download Manager was quite serviceable, Mozilla has made some nice tweaks in the new version. It now lists not only the file name, but the URL it was downloaded from, and includes an icon that leads to information about when and where you downloaded it. (The Remove link has been, well, removed from the Download manager -- you now have to right-click to delete a listing.)

Download Manager
The new Download Manager tracks when you downloaded files and from where. (Click for larger view.)

But the new feature I really approve of is the ability to resume a download that may have been abruptly stopped because Firefox, or your system, crashed. I tried it out by using the Task Manager to end firefox.exe during a download; when I brought Firefox up again, the Download Manager resumed the download as if nothing had happened.

Address Bar
The address bar is now more readable and searches both your history and your bookmark lists. (Click for larger view.)

Since I've wasted a lot of time over the years having to deal with repeatedly failing downloads, this is something I appreciate.

2. An enhanced address bar. Mozilla has also made improvements in the autocomplete function of its address bar (which Mozilla calls a "location bar"), and I have to say I find it both impressive and useful. In Firefox 3 Beta 2, the autocomplete doesn't just offer a list of URLs that you've been to, but includes sites that are in your bookmark list.

It then gives you a nice, clear listing of the URLs and site names in large, easy-to-read text, with the typed-in phrase underlined. It makes it really simple to find and return to that semi-remembered Web site you visited a few days ago.

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