Mozilla releases third Firefox 3 beta

Browser's latest beta version fits in more naturally with Mac OS X, Vista, and Linux, but the best reason to try the software is still its faster performance.

Mozilla has released a third beta version of Firefox 3, bringing about 1,300 changes to the widely used open-source Web browser.

Firefox 3 Beta 3 should be more stable, perform faster, use memory more efficiently, and fit in better on various operating systems than its predecessors, Mozilla said.

Beta 3 of Firefox 3, shown here running on Windows XP, uses new interface elements made of vector graphics. It helps improve performance, Mozilla said. Stephen Shankland/CNET Networks

Having tried the new version out for a while this morning, my top impression hasn't changed since beta 2: the best thing about the new version is faster performance. Pages load faster.

Other improvements, according to the Firefox 3 release notes, include a better tool for seeing who owns a Web site; better protection against sites known to install viruses, spyware, or other malicious software; the plugging of 350 memory leaks that previously could waste more and more computer memory; the ability to locate downloaded files; a better tool to find and install plug-ins; and color management support, now enabled by default.

The new Firefox beta can be downloaded from the Mozilla Web site, including versions for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux localized for several languages.

The new Firefox beta also adopts more of the native style of Mac OS X, Windows Vista, and Linux --the latter having been a point of some contention earlier given some technical difficulties. Also interesting from an interface standpoint and giving the beta a new look is the use of vector graphics for elements such as the back arrow and reload button.

I like Firefox 3's new location bar drop-down feature, in which Firefox presents various sites I've visited or bookmarked. For example, typing "can" retrieves a list that includes various Canon Web sites I've visited as well as Icanhascheezburger.com. (Alas, though, everyone's favorite LOLcats site seems to have a rendering problem with the new browser in the form of 10 "favorite" buttons.)

Beta 3 apparently improves the "frecency" formula that selects what to display in the drop-down list based on how frequently and recently you visited the sites. My only beef with the location bar drop-down so far is that it's a visually chaotic jumble of URLs, favicons, and titles in different fonts and colors.

Coincidentally, I was able to give the new Firefox 3 beta a short stress test, and it fared much better than its predecessor.

I found a misbehaving Flash ad Tuesday that made Firefox 2 chew up about 98 percent of my CPU power and thereby caused my system--especially Firefox--to slow to a crawl. Today, I found that same ad on another Web site while trying the Firefox 3 beta, and although it, too, maxed out my CPU, Firefox now was usable, though sluggish.

Firefox 3 sports a new add-on manager to find, add, disable, and uninstall plug-ins. Stephen Shankland/CNET Networks

There are some reasons I won't be moving full time to the new beta, though.

Unsurprisingly, given warnings in the release notes, several plug-ins I use still aren't compatible: Foxmarks, del.icio.us, Fotofox, and FireFTP. And Yahoo Mail only can be used in its older classic mode for me.

For the Yahoo Mail problem, there's some hope: Mozilla is waiting on Yahoo for a bug fix for the mail site, and the Firefox release notes now offer a less pessimistic warning that the newer Yahoo Mail interface "may not work for all users right away."

The release notes also warn that Windows Live Mail doesn't work; a plug-in must be installed to play Windows Media Player content on Windows; Firefox often will stop responding to keystrokes when using Google Documents on Mac OS X; and printing is broken on many versions of Linux.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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