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 Comments

  1. leandro August 8, 2009 9:52 am 

    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!

  2. gxg August 8, 2009 10:45 am 

    “You can do the same in Firefox 3.5 setting javascript.options.jit.chrome to true via about:config.” – do you mean TraceMonkey is not enabled by default in Firefox 3.5?

    I don’t like the idea of a new button for full screen taking up space, but it can be easily removed, I think.

    http://my.opera.com/exde601e/blog/on-browsers-and-evolution

    • Abhinav August 8, 2009 5:28 pm 

      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.

      • bogas04 August 11, 2009 7:26 am 

        So it means that it will speed up firefox in UI , and hence its better to turn it “True” ??

  3. Gabriela August 8, 2009 11:43 am 

    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!

    • Percy Cabello August 8, 2009 12:10 pm 

      Gabriela, you can create it as a boolean preference.

      • Gabriela August 8, 2009 12:27 pm 

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

      • Gabriela August 8, 2009 12:36 pm 

        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!

        • Percy Cabello August 9, 2009 11:37 pm 

          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!

          • Gabriela August 11, 2009 2:13 pm 

            Yes Percy it helped!!!
            Many thanks!

  4. Reimer August 8, 2009 12:57 pm 

    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.

  5. Stan August 8, 2009 3:16 pm 

    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?

  6. Gen2ly August 8, 2009 9:05 pm 

    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?

  7. David Naylor August 9, 2009 4:31 am 

    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.

  8. khaled August 9, 2009 4:43 am 

    when will u release the official version ???

    sorry for bad english

  9. noname August 9, 2009 11:35 am 

    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?

    • KX August 10, 2009 12:51 pm 

      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.

      • noname August 10, 2009 2:16 pm 

        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.

  10. Mossop August 9, 2009 12:47 pm 

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

    • Gabriela August 11, 2009 2:17 pm 

      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!

  11. Mike August 9, 2009 10:49 pm 

    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

  12. Mike August 9, 2009 10:50 pm 

    my bad. have to have more than two tabs open… that’s logical. haha.

  13. darco August 9, 2009 10:53 pm 

    Is FF going to give us a x64 browser? I no longer use FF because of this.

  14. ftb August 10, 2009 4:15 am 

    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.

  15. Skullsplitter August 10, 2009 5:34 am 

    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.

  16. AGAIN STOLEN August 10, 2009 9:03 am 

    Again ideas stolen from Opera. :(

    those $^%$^$%^ bastards from fIREFOX…

    • RoyB September 1, 2009 6:17 am 

      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.

  17. Ste_95 August 12, 2009 3:09 am 

    Great news, congratulations!
    I’m writing from Firefox 3.6 alpha 1, and it doesn’t seem bad.

  18. sung August 14, 2009 12:01 am 

    Does anyone know if 3.6 will be supporting prism from the get-go? It’s practically become part of my daily routine.

  19. turo62 October 21, 2009 3:55 pm 

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

  20. johnfortich December 11, 2009 12:02 am 

    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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