Firefox Inches Closer to V3 With First Release Candidate

Mozilla is creeping ever closer to dropping the final version of the much-anticipated Firefox 3 Web browser. The latest build is the first Release Candidate for Firefox 3 (RC1), which means it’s gone beyond the beta stage and is picking up a couple of last-minute polishes before it’s offered up live to the whole world as a completed browser.

Most anyone can download this latest version, but it’s still only intended for testing purposes. The biggest potential problem, Mozilla says, is that users shouldn’t expect all of their add-ons to work properly with this preview release. Still, there are lots of new features in Firefox 3 RC1 that make it a compelling new version.

In this latest milestone, Mozilla has tweaked the user interface in Linux, Windows Vista, Windows XP and Mac OS X versions, as well as added changes and fixes to the location bar autocomplete feature, bookmark backup and restore, and full page zoom. Plus, Firefox 3 is more secure, compatible and stable, Mozilla said.

Tuning Performance

“There are many reasons to upgrade, but the most important from my perspective is performance,” Stephen O’Grady, an industry analyst for Redmonk, told LinuxInsider.

“The Mozilla team has done an excellent job of speeding up the browsing experience while eliminating some of the memory leaks and other bugs that led to poor performance in Firefox 2,” he added.

Compared with Firefox 2, Web applications like Google Mail and Zoho Office run twice as fast in Firefox 3, and the popular SunSpider test from Apple shows improvements over previous releases, according to Mozilla. On the memory front, Mozilla reports that memory cycles are broken and collected by an automated cycle collector, a new memory allocator reduces fragmentation, hundreds of leaks have been fixed, and caching strategies have been tuned.

Tighter Security

Firefox 3 includes several key security features, not the least of which is one-click site identity verification, which lets an owner easily see who owns a site and to check their connection to see if it’s protected from eavesdropping.

Plus, malware protection features warn users when they arrive at sites which are known to install viruses, spyware, trojans or other malware, Mozilla noted. The contents of pages that are suspected to be Web forgeries — sites that try to look like legitimate sites — aren’t even displayed in Firefox 3.

Easier to Use

Firefox 3 comes with a lot of ease-of-use improvements, including a full-page zoom that will let users zoom into and out of Web pages — including images instead of just text. Plus, Mozilla has added some Linux integration improvements so that Firefox’s default icons, buttons and menu styles now use the native GTK (The Gimp Toolkit) theme.

Mozilla has added some improvements that make it easier to personalize the Firefox 3 experience, perhaps the most important of which is the so-called “Awesome Bar” (officially called the “Location Bar”), an automatic personalization feature. Its core component is an autocomplete feature: As a user is typing in a title, tag, or Web address, the location bar searches the user’s history and bookmarks and generates an easy-to-understand list of likely places the user is looking for.

Results are returned according to their “frecency,” a combination of frequency and recency of visits. The idea is to deliver the most relevant matches, and the location bar uses an adaptive learning algorithm to make it all happen.

Firefox 3 RC1 is still essentially beta software, and the final shipping version isn’t expected to ship for at least a month or two.

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