Firefox 3 Beta 1 is already free in the open, but Firefox 3 development doesn’t stop and developers keep tweaking and perfecting the long list of new features and changes .
First and certainly most notable the visual refresh that will bring not only a better OS integrated look (officially Mac, Windows and Linux) but will feature some usability improvements like a unified back and forward history, a round and bigger back button, the site button and more icons and power in the location bar.
If you have never heard about the DOM Inspector or if have just heard about it then you know why it is being considered for un-bundling.
While a capable and helpful web development tool, the thing is it is something for developers. If you really need it you will know how to find it as an extension. With the current Firefox Windows installer a full 1 MB heavier than Firefox 18.104.22.168, it would also help to trim some fat. Yet another reason is the opportunity to make it an extension project of its own independent of the complex Firefox development.
It’s not sure though as some other facts have to be weighted in like setting an upgrade path for current users.
The already extensively improved location bar could become clearer. Due to cognitive facts cited in the tracking bug, the location bar could get two line items in the autocomplete list to make it easier to distinguish the address from the page title and be able to scan either titles or addresses selectively. Also, the part matching the typed string could also get highlighted for quicker identification.
The Places Organizer window could be renamed to Library and it should also get a couple of important changes: interface for creating saved searche folders and the bookmark preview pane as well as some necessary ironing of panes resizing bugs.
The Add-ons manager could get a dramatic change event at this stage. The Add-ons Manager revamp described in the Mozilla Wiki talks about two major changes and a few minor.
First, it could become the place to manage search engines along with extensions, language packs, dictionaries, themes, and since alpha, plugins. Secondly, it could become much more integrated with Mozilla Add-ons, Mozilla’s official repository for extensions, themes and other add-ons. For example it could suggest some extension and they would be presented inside the AM showing its description, screenshot, score based on user reviews and a button to install it right away.
Below is a mockup that integrates the current design with Windows XP default theme and Sage as a sample extension.
The search feature of the new Download Manager is also been considered for removal. Personally, I didn’t appreciate it when it first landed and won’t miss it for sure.
Will we get the beautiful tab switching? Hardly. If it would have made it for Beta 1, even in very raw form, it could have had a chance, but at this stage in the game it would be really a surprise to see it land. Be sure to bookmark the extension that makes it possible though.
Native audio/video. Another big hope that seems very unlikely to become real is <audio> and <video> tags with native Ogg Vorbis and Theora support. It could have made a really big impact for media distribution on 2008. It seems we’ll have to wait a year more.
In terms of milestones, I am almost sure there will be at least two more betas given the current status and I would bet on yet another beta followed by at least three release candidates, basically because it would be proportionate to the amount of new features and changes Firefox 3 will bring compared to what the Firefox 1.5 to Firefox 2 upgrade involved.
In all, this will not be a “a Firefox for Christmas” year. I am expecting it for early to mid February which will be good for quality assurance and to give time to extension and theme developers to have their critters ready for the big launch.