Firefox 3.6 now available for download

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.

Personas

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.

Firefox 3.6 - Personas

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 3.6 - manage personas

User Experience

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.

Firefox 3.6 - Full screen video

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.

Firefox 3.6 - List all tabsNew 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.

Firefox 3.6 - Filter all tabs

Firefox 3.6 - tab switching

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.

Firefox 3.6 - Hide menu bar

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.

Firefox 3.6 - about:troublehoot

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.

Web Enhancement

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.

Firefox 3.6 - Plugin check

Performance

TraceMonkey, the JavaScript optimizer has been futher improved. In my tests, it took about 15% less time than Firefox 3.5 to complete the SunSpider test suite (from 1775ms to 1254ms in my Thinkpad T400). Thanks to stability gains, it is also enabled for improving chrome code as well. Remember the whole Firefox user interface runs on JavaScript.

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.

What’s Next

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.

Download Firefox 3.6 now. Release Notes.

13 Comments

  1. Neal January 21, 2010 2:41 pm 

    I’m not seeing ‘browser.ctrlTab.mostRecentlyUsed’ in my about:config. When I changed the ‘browser.ctrlTab.previews’ setting it accomplished what you say ‘browser.ctrlTab.mostRecentlyUsed’ should accomplish.

    Also, I don’t have the ‘Show all Tabs’ button in the far right. I just have the arrow pointing down that list all of the tabs.

    The Show all Tabs button appears when you press Ctrl+Tab and bring up the thumbnail view.

    • CIAvash January 22, 2010 10:12 am 

      for “all tabs” button set “browser.allTabs.previews” to true.

  2. David Naylor January 21, 2010 7:44 pm 

    As usual, I had forgotten (got used to) all the nice little things that have been improved since 3.5. Thanks for reminding me!

  3. Greg January 21, 2010 8:48 pm 

    Why am I now forced to use the default theme to use personas at all. My choice on 3 of my machines now is either default theme with persona or different theme, but no persona. If I roll over a persona nothing happens. Click wear it and it makes me restart Firefox and goes back to the default theme.

  4. TWS January 22, 2010 2:41 am 

    I’ve been running Noia 2.0 for sometime and recently I gave Personas a try. I really like being able to run Personas “Aurora Borealis” and Noia together, looks great, no loss of functionality.

    I tried 3.6 on my test computer and it defaults back to the original Firefox theme which I detest and turned Noia off. I realize that the Noia builder needs to update Noia to be compatible to 3.6 but upon doing some research it turns out I can’t run Personas and Noia in 3.6 at all.

    Perhaps instead of Personas being part of the build of 3.6 it should have been left as an extension as I was using in 3.5.

    Also, I wish that while 3.6 was in development you good folks could have given more attention to the Norton IPS and Norton Toolbar 3.7 before rolling 3.6 out. Many people utilize Norton and the availability of having secure login assisted by Norton’s password bank if you will, allows the ease of having all my passwords available. IE8 works and I can certainly use it to do my banking and whatnot but needless to say I prefer FIREFOX. I guess I could always go back to Opera…Hmmmm….Perhaps, you could state in future releases, of updates, that certain add-ons or themes won’t work so the individual can decide if they won’t to download or not.

    Note; 3.6 does load much faster, HOO-RAY! 3.5 loads like a sloth. Love Firefox, keep up the good work. Rolling back to 3.5.7.

  5. Key January 22, 2010 8:12 am 

    The integration of personas is such awful ! The stand alone extension allowed to use persona beside themes, and now we have to chose between a cool theme and persona with that ugly default theme !

    You guys should have let personas alone it was really better in 3.5 !

  6. zyn January 22, 2010 9:17 am 

    Any way to change the “New Tabs open next to Current Tab” setting? I preferred new tabs to be opened at the end of the tabs.

    • CIAvash January 22, 2010 4:19 pm 

      set “tabs.insertRelatedAfterCurrent” to false.

  7. Phillip E. Fortman February 10, 2010 11:00 pm 

    I am buying a new PC Tomorrow. Dell XPS. The fools are still locked into a contract with Microsoft for Home and home office Buyers.

    I Don’t want to go online!!! WITHOUT FIREFOX! INSTALLED! Please tell me how to but or pay for shipping of a Firefox on CD disk. I beg you!

    I have had very amazing results in fending off virus, and L.S.O.’s with better privacy.
    Respectfully,
    Phil Fortman
    PLEASE! A internet connection without Firefox as my default browser is not worth taking it out of the box! I would rather leave it in it’s shipping box then take it out without a Firefox CD to load it. The McAfee security suite is OK. Nothing protects like the FRONT LINE GUARD- THE Browsers get it 1st! Then, it in a nano-second a mailware can bypass all the security in the world you may have installed!

  8. Phillip E. Fortman February 10, 2010 11:03 pm 

    Please! tell me how I can get a Firefox CD. I have ordered a new DEll XPS.
    Internet is not worth taking it out of the shipping carton.
    Respectfully,
    Phil Fortman
    3040 W. North Ave. Apt. #205
    Chicago IL. 60647

  9. Philip M. Fortman February 15, 2010 11:16 am 

    To: Phillip E. Fortman

    If you are that paranoid of using Internet Explorer for a single download session of FireFox, buy a Mac! Having run both platforms (PC Windows and Mac OSX) Macs for many years, Macs are far less of a problem in many areas of operation. FireFox for Mac is an excellent browser.
    Hmmm, interesting name Phil.

    Philip M. Fortman
    Fort Lauderdale, FL

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