Planned as a minor update to Firefox 3.5, released last June, Namoroka (Firefox 3.6’s code name) is not only the quickest Firefox release but the first featuring Mozilla’s new beta approach: a single big beta release that gets frequently revised, and updated, keeping all beta users in the most current test lane.
The result: perhaps the most extensively tested Firefox release, with just above 1 million users by the release candidate stage, which helps Firefox 3.6 be a robust release for an increasingly more competitive, healthier web browser market. Let’s see what’s inside.
Personsas is definitely the main feature for this release. Also called lightweight themes, unlike full featured themes which allow to change every aspect of the UI (widgets, backgrounds, colors, fonts), personas focus on just changing the status bar and toolbars backgrounds, without requiring an application restart, and making it pretty easy to preview the personas in Mozilla Add-ons.
With more than 10 million extension downloads (for Firefox 3.5 and before), and more than 30,000 available, Personas (now Personas Plus) has been a wild success months before becoming a default Firefox feature. It is still available, and maintained, and still adds a couple of advanced features that could attract users: the ability to load your own persona by selecting a couple of files from your computer, and an option to browse Mozilla Add-ons’ personas, and create a set of favorites if you create an account.
Firefox 3.5 introduced support for native Theora videos in web pages using the HTML5 <video> tag. Now, there’s an option to see videos in full screen mode. Just right-click on the video and select Full Screen.
Talking about full screen, a new full screen button is available from the Customize Toolbars dialog, available from View menu, Toolbars/Customize, so you don’t have to reach the View menu, or remember the F11 hot key.
A small but significant change: if you attempt to launch Firefox while only non content windows are open (like the Add-ons or Downloads Manager), Firefox won’t create a new window as before but restore the last closed window.
New is also the tab preview and the ability to search tabs by title and URL, though not enabled by default. You will have to set browser.ctrlTab.previews to true via about:confige. Then, when you press Ctrl + Tab to switch tabs, a tab panel appears. Also the List all tabs button in the the bar far right, now displays a thumbnail of all open tabs, where you can select, close, or search.
There is also a couple of new tabbed browsing behaviors. First, tabs opened from a web page (like when you middle-click or select Open Link in New Tab from the link’s context menu), are opened to the right of the current tab instead of the last one’s. The second change is disabled by default and makes single Ctrl + Tab key presses switch between the current and the previous tab, instead of moving through all the tabs. To enable it, set browser.ctrlTab.mostRecentlyUsed to true.
Autocomplete suggestions in previously filled web forms are now sorted by frecency, a combined indicator that tells how frequently and how recently an option was used. A nice addition for users who frequently fill out web forms.
On Windows, there’s a new option to hide the menu bar and gain a few thousand pixels for web pages. Right click on the navigation or menu bar and uncheck the Menu Bar item to have it gone for good.
When you need support, there is a way to easily get and share most details about your Firefox setup. In the Help menu, select Troubleshooting Information… to open about:support, a page that summarizes your installed extensions, customized preferences, links to your plugins, and build details, and allows you to quickly copy everything to the clipboard so you can paste it in a support forum post or email.
Not as helpful, about:memory is a first approach to providing details about web pages and tabs resources usage, similar to Chrome’s task manager. Right now it basically only shows Firefox total memory usage. It should make much more sense once multi-process architecture starts landing in coming versions.
What’s not here is support for some of Windows 7’s most useful features: there are no jump lists, no tab preview, and no download status in the taskbar either. However, now that Mozilla is open to including new features in maintenance releases, I really hope this lands in some of the early next updates.
Actually, taskbar preview is available in Firefox 3.6, but it is buggy and not really worth enabling. If you still want to try it, access about:config and set browser.taskbar.previews.enable to true.
Also available is accelerometer support which allows web applications know the current mobile device orientation to react accordingly.
Mozilla is now supporting the Web Open Font Format (WOFF) for embedded fonts which has several advantages over TrueType and OpenType, like smaller size thanks to compression, and the ability to trace the source of a specific font without the burden of DRM.
With multiple file input, you can select several files for a single file input area, so it is easier to upload. Now, web developers, please use it! It’s always been a pain to upload photos to any photo sharing or printing service unless you use a proprietary plugin or a Java applet.
A new API will now allow add-on developers access Firefox’s geolocation features, and better standard interfaces for easier drag and drop in web pages should make web developers’ lives easier.
It scores 94 in Acid3 (the web standards compliance test), one point more than Firefox 3.5.
Security and Stability
The Firefox components directory is now locked down, which means no third party provider will be able to write to Firefox’s components folder. More details in Mozilla Developer Center.
The extensions.checkCompatibility preference is now less relaxed. In the past, it has been abused by users as a way to force incompatible extensions to work with newer Firefox versions. The preference is still there but it will have to be more explicit. For example to force them to work with Firefox 3.6, you will have to add extensions.checkCompatibility.3.6 and set it to false. For future versions you will need to set extensions.checkCompatibility.3.7 to false and so on. See Dave Townsend’s post for more details.
Another important addition is an option to check for plugin updates. To do so, just press Find Updates in the Plugins page in the Add-ons Manager. The Plugin Check page will test your browser, report on what plugins are outdated, and provide links to where you can find the latest versions.
Per tab network prioritization makes Firefox allocate more bandwidth for the currently viewed tab, less for other tabs in the current window and even less for other windows, enhancing the perceived responsiveness.
Lorentz. The next major update will run plugins (or at least Flash) on their own processes to improve overall stability. It, however, won’t come as a major update but as an update to Firefox 3.6 (around 3.6.2), marking a change in Mozilla approach to minor updates. There are a few other updates that may be included, but nothing is clear right now.