Review: Firefox 3.5 makes browsing faster, easier and more fun

Mozilla puts Firefox 3.5 ahead of the browser pack with better performance, improved tab handling and nifty new features.

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Firefox 3.5 has taken a page from Chrome, letting you drag a window out of a browsing session and launch it as its own browsing session, or else drag a tab from one browser session into another to combine them. In addition, when you drag a tab to reposition it among other tabs, you see a thumbnail of the tab as you move it.

Firefox now also supports what is called Location Aware Browsing, which tells Web sites your location so that they can deliver geographic-relevant information for online maps or to help when you're searching for local information and businesses.

It works like this: Firefox finds your IP address, gathers information from any nearby Wi-Fi hot spots, and sends that to Google Location Services (its geolocation service provider), which then tries to determine your location and shares that information with the Web site you're visiting. All this happens only if you give Firefox permission; Mozilla claims that it's done in a way that protects your privacy.

Firefox 3.5: When you reposition a tab, you see its thumbnail as you move it
When you reposition a tab, you see its thumbnail as you move it.

Version 3.5 also supports downloadable fonts, and CSS support has been improved. And the "Awesome Bar," which is Firefox's name for the Address Bar, has gotten a slight change that power tweakers will appreciate: You can now more easily filter results as you type text into the bar. So, for example, if you want to see results only from your bookmarks, use the * character (as in Gralla*); if you want results only from tags, use the # character (e.g., Gralla#).

The bottom line

If you're a Firefox user, this upgrade is a no-brainer. Browsing the Web is significantly faster, the ability to re-open previously closed tabs and windows is a major improvement, and as for PrivateBrowsing ... I won't delve into your personal life, but if you've got a need to keep some of your browsing a secret, you'll want this feature.

The video is a nice-to-have, but won't be particularly useful until sites start using it. The same holds true for Location Based Browsing and some of the other improvements.

Note to current Firefox users: As with previous Firefox updates, some of your add-ons, such as Google Gears, might not work until they are updated to work with version 3.5.

Still, all in all, this is a major improvement over Firefox 3. Even if you're not currently a Firefox user, you'll want to give it a try.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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