Firefox 3 RC 2 review

More than a year and a half in the making, at Release Candidate 2 stage, Firefox 3 is almost here and ready for the about 150 million current Firefox users and the millions to come, to lay their hands on its code and benefit of the dozens of new features and improvements aimed for a better web experience.

In fact, according to the latest NetApplications browsers utilization report, about 0.62% of web users are already using Firefox 3. Not surprisingly, here at Mozilla Links numbers are radically different with about 53% already surfing the web with some Firefox 3 release.

Let’s get started.

Perhaps the single most noticeable and welcomed Firefox 3 improvements are its several performance gains. On Windos, profile guided optimizations (PGO) provides an optimized Firefox build based on the way it internally works.

A very noticeable gain can be seen in JavaScript: it is about three times faster than Firefox 2 implementation. JavaScript is twice as important for Firefox since it is not only used in a large number of web pages but it’s also what makes Firefox UI work.

Memory wise, a much needed memory cycle collector is now in place to take care of freeing memory no longer used by modules that requested it but failed to release it properly. This and other memory oriented tweaks, seem to have paid off so far: a set of tests I recently ran suggests a noticeable increase in memory management efficiency with more memory freed as tabs and windows are closed and no mysterious memory eaten up when Firefox is kept open and idle for several hours as it has been reported several times in the past for Firefox 2.


A much announced and expected feature is Places, the integrated history and bookmarks manager interface powered by SQLite, a small open source database engine that provides much more robust querying capabilities.

With Places you are able to search your history, tags and bookmarks with a fully fledged search interface. You can select where to search (History, Bookmarks Menu, Bookmarks Toolbar, All Bookmarks or the selected folder), and then save the search as a Smart Bookmark that updates as your personal web grows and changes.

The Library, Places manager, also adds backup and restore UI so it is easier to recover a damaged file or incorrectly deleted bookmark.

Tagging is a new Firefox feature tightly related with Places and some of the changes to the location bar: click on an empty star icon in the location bar to save the current page as a bookmark. Click it again and you can specify a folder to save the bookmark to, create a new one and add tags you can later search on.

The Location Bar

The autocomplete list that appears when you start entering letters in the location bar is no longer restricted to web addresses but also looks into bookmark and history page titles and tags which make it more comprehensive.

Suggestions are shown in two different lines and colors for page titles and addresses, which according to studies on human cognition, makes it easier for us to focus on what we are looking for. So, if the user knows she is entering part of a web address or a page title it will be easier for her to find what she’s looking for. Highlighting the match result also helps to direct the user’s attention.

It features adaptive learning so after a few repetitions Firefox will learn what letter combinations you use for what site and will provide better suggestions. This should address the case where frecency (a combined frequency and recency index) didn’t provide the best results.

You can also perform multiword searches, so for example “firefox downloads” filters address, titles and tags containing both words but not necessarily in that order.

I believe this feature alone is the best Firefox 3 has to offer, justifies Places large resources investment and will become a landmark in Firefox and web browsers in general development. Once you get used to it, there is no turning back.

Visual Refresh

One of the most visible changes are the theme updates in all platforms with a strong emphasis in making Firefox feel as a native application on each operating system.

On Windows the theme is called Strata. Here’s how it looks on Vista.

And here is on Windows XP.

The Options window on Windows Vista with the new icons.

Mac OS X users get Firelight, a new Safari-like theme introduced with Beta 2, formerly known as Proto.

Linux users get Tango, a theme that blends with Gnome native icons.

Firefox 3 Beta 3 on Ubuntu

The back and forward buttons have been combined in a single keyhole-shaped widget with a single history menu and is now featured in all platforms except Linux.

According to the new guidelines, consistency across platforms is kept through icons shape while OS integration is provided by texture. In Linux case, it’s very hard to set one due to the many available distributions and their particular themes.

For more details on the Firefox 3 themes update, check out Alex Faaborg’s post.

Search bar resizer

There’s an invisible splitter between the location and search bars that you can use to set their width when they are placed next to each other.

Developers are aiming to deliver better operating system integration in Firefox 3. This will be most notable for Mac OS X and Linux users who will now get native widgets like text boxes, menus, check boxes, icons, button order and orientation following each OS guidelines.

Mac OS X users get integration with Growl, a popular centralized notification system, while Windows Vista gets native looking menus and blue icons that blend better with overall Vista look.

See more Windows XP, Vista and Linux screenshots in this recent post.

The Page Information dialog has been reviewed to become more organized and informative and allows to set all site specific preference from a single location.

Tabbed Browsing

On tabbed browsing, Firefox will not only warn you when closing several tabs and windows at once but will prompt if you want to save the currently open tab set: a good catch and a good way to introduce this helpful feature to new users.

Tabs now scroll smoothly.

You can duplicate and move tabs (including its history and current status). To clone, press Ctrl while dragging a tab, or just drag them across windows to move. A very helpful addition!

36 thoughts on “Firefox 3 RC 2 review”

    1. Because it’s 99.9% the same product as expected for RC stage. If you have read the previous reviews there’s really nothing else to see here, just download and enjoy the RC2. :)

      1. Why not tell about the bugs that got fixed in RC1 and are no longer in RC2 ? Repeating the same information twice is like eating twice the same candy.
        excuse me for my rudeness.

  1. FF3rc2 is like a box of Lucky Charms with mealybugs in it… magically delicious but buggy enough to have second thoughts about using it. I like the bookmark tagging feature, it’s super… but it really pops when you use the Tag Sifter extension. Tag Sifter will help you to tag all your existing FF2 bookmarks with a handy wizard. The Nightly Tester Tools extension will help to enable some, but not all incompatible extensions. Don’t try to enable the Google Toolbar or Google Browser Sync; these will crash-loop FF3. The All-in-One Sidebar and Colorful Tabs extensions will work once you enable them with Nightly Tester. I recommend that if you install FF3rc2, choose a different folder than default (like Program Files\Firefox3rc2 for example) and this way you can still revert to FF2 if you run into difficulty. In fact if you want to be cautiously geeky about it you can use the ProfileSwitcher extension to have one profile for FF2 and another for FF3rc2, thus keeping extensions for each version separate and happy.

  2. I’ve been having a lot of problems with all the FF versions: so far, the RC2 has not crashed, but all the others did so abundantly. They all hand at some point or other (screen turning transparently white also), it takes FIVE minutes or longer after startup before it is fully functional, etc. So far, I am not impressed by the revamped product. There are no gains in speed, compared to FF2. Places is redundant, nor is the library interesting.
    Opera 9.5beta2 is much faster and more stable. Should they ever decide to customize it, I would switch whole-heartedly.
    No, FF (the betas) is still far from a success.

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  4. Are you kidding? For me, this definitely runs a lot faster than Firefox 2, and boots far quicker. The memory cycle collector’s definitely a good thing, even if it is overdue, and I for one find the revised URL bar massively useful, not to mention the text shortcuts for search engines.

    It’s a pity that a lot of Flash-based things still like to crash Firefox without warning, but this seems to happen on Opera, Internet Explorer 7 and Safari as well, so maybe it’s somehow Vista’s fault.

  5. Actually, on checking one such thing that crashes Firefox, there’s no longer any problem with that, so it seems.

    Looks like RC2 was indeed a significant step up for stability.

  6. I love the reviews of mozillalinks they have been the best reviews of Firefox for some time. But when a new version of Firefox is released is being flooded with lame reviews and announcements from clueless sites and the mozillalinks review is nowhere to be found. If you would provide a digg button at the end of the article I am sure your review would be frontpage news on digg. Other social bookmarking sites would be useful too of course but I think digg is the biggest one.

  7. …On second thoughts, Firefox still crashes when I try to open certain Flash-based features such as 3D views for Logitech products. I think it’s Flash anyway, or maybe Java. This will be fixed by the final release, right?

  8. A.S., Sounds like you have a buggy system. A badly coded site can certainly still cause crashes but if it’s happening constantly you may have faulty memory or a failing power supply. That or some software or OS issues.

    Also re: speed I really don’t see how you can sit here and say that FF3 offers no performance gains over FF 2. Clearly it does based on both legitimate repeatable benchmarks and also first hand experiences.

    Fine if you prefer another browser but the things your claiming just aren’t true

  9. You wrote: “On Windos, profile guided optimizations (PGO) provides an optimized Firefox build based on the way it internally works.”
    I think it’s Windows, not WinDOS. ^^
    Sorry for that pun. ^^

  10. Firefox 3 sounds awesome! I previously to a development version and it was great, except for the lack of add-on support but from your review it sounds like it has improved so I’m off to try it out!

  11. “See more Windows XP, Vista and Linux screenshots in this recent post.”
    The screenshots on the “recent post” are pretty outdated. Should you even mention it?

    “For more details on the Firefox 3 themes update, check out Alex Faaborg’s post.”
    Shouldn’t that point to the actualy post, and not the blog?

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