Firefox 3.6 Alpha 1 review

Mozilla has released Firefox 3.6 Alpha 1, the first development step in the way for Firefox 3.6 (code named Namoroka), targeted for later this year.

One of the main themes in this release is making Firefox feel snappier to the user: whether you are launching it, opening a new tab, a sidebar, there is a difference on whether the action is done fast and perceived fast.

In this area, you will notice that web pages now scroll faster thanks to acceleration activated after a few mouse wheel scrolls.

User experience

A new feature provides better autocomplete recommendations for previously entered form fields: instead of an alphabetically ordered list, it is sorted by frecency (a combined index of frequency and recency of use) so the most likely values are displayed first. Also, the characters you type are searched in all previously entered strings not just the beginning as in Firefox 3.5.

Originally planned for Firefox 3.0 and 3.5, tabs preview got backed out in both development cycles. It is back again to provide visual tab switching: press Ctrl + Tab and you get preview of the current along with the five most recently used tabs, plus an option to show all tabs’ thumbnails including a search bar.

ctrltab

ctrltab2

Also back is the new behavior for single Ctrl + Tab:  instead of moving to the next tab in the tab bar, you switch to the previously used tab.

Unlike previous attempts, this time tab preview and the new tab switching behavior are off by default. To enable tab preview, set browser.ctrlTab.previews to true via about:config. For the new behavior, set browser.ctrlTab.mostRecentlyUsed to true.

A new full screen button is now available in the customize toolbar dialog for users who prefer mouse browsing. There’s always F11 for hard core keyboard users.

fullscreenbutton

Better Session Restore

Has this happened to you? You want to restart Firefox, so you close your only window, then double click the Firefox icon and instead of your tabs you get your home page only. What happened? You then realize that there was a non browser window (the Add-ons or Download manager)  also opened, so you just got a new window. Starting with alpha 1, Firefox is smarter about this and will restore your tabs whenever it finds no other browser window open.

Performance

JavaScript optimizations (TraceMonkey) are improved and are also now available for the user interface by default. You can do the same in Firefox 3.5 setting javascript.options.jit.chrome to true via about:config. I have been using it that way since the Firefox 3.5 alphas or betas and haven’t had  a problem, so I think it is is safe to have it enabled by now.

Web Development

In the development front, support for multiple background images, gradients, rem units (root font size) in CSS. It scores 94 in Acid3 (the web standards compliance test), one point more than Firefox 3.5.

As said, Firefox 3.6 is targeted for later this year. A previous Namoroka draft plan included a lot of significant new features borrowed from Prism, Ubiquity, Personas, and Jetpack Mozilla Labs’ extensions, but it is hard to imagine all or even any of these will get in for a fall release.

35 thoughts on “Firefox 3.6 Alpha 1 review”

  1. awesome piece of news!
    its always good to see firefox improving in important areas, like speed and standards compatibility… also, the smart “restore session” is brilliant!

    1. TraceMonkey is enabled by default in Firefox 3.5 but only for content. In Firefox 3.6 it can also power the user interface and is turned off by default.

  2. I’m amazed by the Firefox 3.6 Alpha 1’s super speed!
    I can’t find the pref “browser.ctrlTab.mostRecentlyUsed” in about:config. though. I suppose I must add it. Could anyone tell me if it should be a string, integer or boolean option?
    Many thanks!

      1. Percy, I will do so now. Many thanks for your immediate reply!

        I’ve done it, alas I cannot see all tabs’ thumbnails including a search bar, just the preview of the current along with the five most recently used tabs, which disappears as soon as I release the Ctrl+Tab keys, and no search bar.
        Could you help me any further please?
        Many thanks!

        1. You should notice a “Show all 7 tabs” button below the tab previews. You can reach it hitting tab, then release when it is selected, then you’ll get the all preview screen. Hope that helps!

  3. I find that this build uses about 20-30 mb more memory than 3.5.2 upon startup on a blank tab/page and eats up more memory than 3.5.2 over time.
    Other than that, it seems to work fine.

  4. I enabled TraceMonkey for the 3.5 chrome, and have also tried 3.6 in a clean profile. I notice no difference in UI speed when javascript.options.jit.chrome is in use. Am I missing something?

  5. I’m trying 3.6 alpha now and it looks good. Good to hear that performance is being looked at again as a priority. Any idea how progress for TraceMonkey for Linux x86_64 is going?

  6. Great summary, much better than the official one. I’m quite tempted to try this out – lots of nice improvements.

    Also, I’m surprised how quickly Mozilla got this alpha out after 3.5.

  7. The laggy scrolling while zooming issue seems to be fixed for the most part.

    I’d use the fullscreen button a lot but I can’t access in fullscreen mode, which makes it useless for me. Am I missing something?

    1. Do you mean that you want a button to get back from fullscreen mode? Because that already exists:
      In Fx3.5 fullscreen mode (at least under Windows) there are minimize, restore, and close buttons in the upper-right corner of the toolbar. Clicking the restore button should get you out of fullscreen mode.

      1. Oh the navigation bar has to be enabled to see those buttons. In my case it’s a blank bar and hidden to add vertical space.

        I hope they allow switching back to normal from fullscreen mode without the navigation bar eventually.

  8. I think the preference browser.ctrlTab.mostRecentlyUsed is no longer used. Just browser.ctrlTab.preview is required to enable the UI shown

    1. Moosop,
      Many thanks for your answer!
      Yes, I checked with the Mozilla IRC, you’re right. That preference is no longer used. They showed me how to show all tabs’ thumbnails including a search bar too!

  9. Yea, I enabled both functions as well, and it behaves like normal. Tab’s do not switch to the last used, and no preview when ctl-tabbing.

    On Windows 7 7100

  10. I could care less about 3.6.

    FF 3.5.2 can’t even run properly without the ‘not responding’ appearing several times an hour (it’s been a common problem). They can focus on getting their current build correct, then I’ll care about 3.6.

  11. Can someone suggest a way to get rid of the “Open a new tab” button? I don’t want it there. I want it gone. There was a userchrome.css line that worked in 3.5 but not for the new alpha. Any help? Thanks.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with copying ideas to improve a product.
      Many add-ons are copies of features from other browsers.
      Relax and drop the strong language.

  12. Firefox 3.6 alpha 1 is definitely faster than Firefox 3.52. It seems very stable. .No noticeable bugs so far.

  13. why bother Foxtab is better.. great ideas for firefox always come from the developer of the addons.. if they haven’t realize it.. the next trend of browsers will be in 3Ds and Home page will be in pages.. a lists of several favorites or bookmarks.. now imagine the same 3D browser on your phones or PDAs sync in real time.. careful not to loose track of the firefox addon developers.. they could one day challenge the fox.. ^_^

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