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Why Firefox 3 rocks

Tuesday, 15 January 2008 firefox webdev

A media heavy post to start the year! I’ve been using Firefox 3 beta 2 for some time now and here are my favourite features. FF3 already rocks my socks and I’ve a feeling that the final release is going to blow them off.

1. OS-specific UI elements

The UI now uses operating-system-specific icons, allowing it to fit right in with your OS. This is certainly going to go some way to pacify all the Mac and Linux users out there that aren’t happy with the way FF2 fits in with their system.

Style-less form elements also inherit their look from the OS too, allowing for pages to blend right in. This is a bit of a controversial topic — at least in my head — because I hate ambiguity; I want things to look the same wherever they’re rendered. I’ve moaned how IE, FF, Opera and Safari all have different ideas of how a default text-box should look, and each should — at the very least — allow designers to completely override them with CSS.

Thankfully, Firefox 3 does allow for complete overriding, so I’m very happy with this feature.

2. Informative drag and drop

Now this is almost pure eye-candy but one thing I have found with Firefox in the past is that you don’t know what you’re dragging and dropping until you’ve dropped it. This was especially apparent when I moved to Linux; I would always be missing the first letter of the line. With FF3, you get to see what you’re about to drop while you’re dragging. It even keeps some styles in the preview — useful if you’re dropping into rich editors.

3. Multiple improvements to the Add-on Manager

The Add-on Manager has had a plethora of updates applied to it already with more on the way. Extensions have secure update pathways to patch a theoretical security loophole, there is a plugin tab to allow users to easily switch between plug-in versions and vendors.

One thing I particularly like about it is the constantly active restart button. Some changes in FF2 wouldn’t activate the restart button, so It’s nice to be able to do that.

4. Slimmer address-bar with added functionality

This is the central part of any browser. Here’s how it looks in FF3:

So many little bits have been adjusted to make the address-bar better. Searches your history as you type (shown), variable width shared between the search bar and the address-bar, improved website identity display, bookmarking from the address-bar and tagging bookmarks.

5. Superior rendering

Cairo has replaced the renderer in FF2, meaning — for the mostpart — that fonts and graphics are going to be rendered much smoother and faster in some cases. There are still a few regressions in bugs and performance but the overall impression at this early beta 2 stage is it’s going to all bells and whistles by the time this hits the release candidates. Corner image credit: Acts of Volition.

The biggest effect this is going to have on me is the fonts. FF2 fonts in Linux used to blow. Jaunty and jagged — like FF2 for Linux never heard of antialiasing but just check out this zoomed comparison between FF2 and FF3b2:

FF2 vs FF3 fonts

FF2 renders like a stale cheddar while FF3 resembles a soft and creamy goat’s cheese. Much nicer!

And there’s one more thing…

FF now passes Acid2

Well closer to a dozen new things: The new download manager. Improved CSS handling (Acid2). Performance improvements. The new bookmark and history manager. Support for remote bookmarking (delicious, etc) add-ons. Much improved printing. A new crash-handler. A new installer for Windows. Improvement to tabs.

And that’s not mentioning the things that are on the feature plan not introduced yet: integration with OpenID/Cardspace/al, offline-file handling (!) allowing you to open your documents with online web-services through Weave, parental controls and, no doubt, a lot more.

Firefox’s ability to annihilate all the competition relies strongly upon Weave. The ability to seamlessly interact with your documents online without platform restrictions is going to turn a lot of heads, especially in the enterprise market that stand to save thousands migrating to cheaper online solutions.

But even if Weave doesn’t make the final cut, FF3 is going to be a very strong release, forging the way forward all browserkind.

Bonus: about:config protection

about:config is the back door to all of Firefox’s settings. It’s really useful for tweaking some aspects to your needs but as with any all-encompassing configuration screen, you have the very real risk that you could knacker your profile. Mozilla have put the following screen in to inform users of this:

about:config protection

It’s not going to bring us world peace, but it might stop enthusiastic amateurs knackering Firefox =)