TECH REVIEW: Mozilla Firefox 3.5 Release Candidate

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

I began using Mozilla’s open source web browser Firefox in 2005 — and I haven’t looked back since.

With every new iteration of the browser, I’ve seen Mozilla upgrade the speed and compatibility of Firefox. With Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 showing significant speed upgrades, Apple’s Safari 4 boasting impressive Java benchmark results, and Google’s Chrome gaining ground, the pressure was on for the development team at Mozilla. They finally unveiled the release candidate for Firefox 3.5 this week and, after a few days of using it, I have my first impressions.

(Now, we must keep in mind that this is only a release candidate and in all likelihood there will be changes made before the final version is released.)

Firefox 3.5 adds some new features not found in previous versions. Some of the new aesthetic additions include improved private browsing (sometimes referred to as “porn mode”), which allows the user to view internet pages while the browser conveniently leaves the site out of the browsing history and doesn’t store any cookies the site would have placed on your computer. Mozilla also added a “forget this site” feature, which allows users to enter their history and remove any references to or from a particular site. There is also a “delete recent browsing history” option, which allows users to delete all information about what pages they have visited within a particular time frame (i.e. in the past hour, etc.) All these new features come in handy when your wife checks your browsing history to, uh, “see what gift you were going to get her for her birthday…” Mozilla also made improvements to the tabs on Firefox, allowing you to pull a tab off the browser and create a new browser window instantaneously. Other new features include more advanced color profiles and location based browsing.

The team has also been hard at work on the internals of the browser, features which aren’t necessarily obvious to the average user. One of the features the team seems most excited about is the way Firefox handles video in version 3.5. If a page is written in HTML 5 with a video in an open source format, the video is treated just as part of the page, not as a separate flash video. This helps push the web towards a more seamless integration of text and video.

Another internal upgrade with version 3.5 is the creation of a new JavaScript engine called Tracemonkey. Mozilla claims that Tracemonkey is 20-40 times faster then the Spidermonkey engine used in previous versions of Firefox. Early benchmark tests done by the team at LifeHacker don’t seem to reflect this, and show that Safari 4 and Chrome are still ahead of the game in the speed department, although Firefox is still the lightest on your system and far ahead of Internet Explorer.

After using the new browser for a few days, I feel there is a reason Firefox has gained such a large market share over the last few years (up to 22% by some reports). While it may still lag behind Chrome and Safari when it comes to speed, Firefox is much more compatible than Chrome and much more secure then Safari — not to mention that running Safari on Windows is a joke. Firefox is also available on Mac, Linux and Windows, unifying your browsing experience no matter what operating system you use. With all the available add-ons for Firefox, it is still the most customizable of all the browsers and allows you to add functionality for whatever you need to do. Firefox is still my browser of choice and should be yours too.

Download the Firefox 3.5 RC for Windows, Linux or Mac here, or check out the Mozilla Foundation for more info about other Mozilla Projects.

Ben Wagner is a technology contributor for Rhombus. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ben_wagner.

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