After months of testing, Firefox 3 (code name Gran Paradiso) is available for download from Mozilla. With its new Gekko 1.9 engine, the browser rocks, rendering pages faster and uses fewer system resources overall. As with any new browser, some add-ons created for Firefox 2 may not work, but give them time. Firefox 3 touts faster rendering, a vastly reduced use of system resources, and clever new data-mining tools for your bookmarks and browser history. Most notable is that Firefox 3 includes many security-related features baked right in, such as the best of breed antiphishing protection, making Firefox the most secure browser on the market today. If you haven't already tried Firefox, what are you waiting for? Firefox 3 remains our Editors' Choice over Microsoft Internet Explorer and Opera. See our slide show of Firefox 3's basic features, and its various security features.
Firefox 3 is free, and available on a variety of operating systems: Windows, Mac, and Linux. There are also a wide variety of localized language versions, including Basque and Byelorussian. Unlike IE 7, Firefox 3 does not require a system reboot.
The interface is the same in some places, but different in others. Placement of buttons hasn't changed, but the icons are new. Firefox 3 now provides a native look and feel (for example, the Linux version matches the Linux user interface), and smooth scrolling of open browser tabs. What will draw the eye are more icons near and within the address bar itself. A company logo, if available, will appear before the URL; after the URL there's the new one-click bookmark star and the familiar RSS icon. Other tweaks include those to the Password manager, Add-Ons manager, and Download manager.
Returning within Firefox 3 are several core features, such as Sessions Restore, built-in spell checking, integrated search, pop-up blocker, clear private data, and automated behind-the-scenes updates.
Most exciting among the brand new features is the improved rendering speed thanks to the new Gekko 1.9 engine. Firefox 3 passes the Acid2 Browser Test, along with Safari 3 and Opera 9. The test, designed by the Web Standards Project, is designed to encourage designers to follow HTML and CSS 2.0 specifications. Currently Internet Explorer 7 does not pass, but Microsoft says Internet Explorer 8 is expected to follow Web specifications.
The Gekko 1.9 rendering engine will, however, introduce some inconveniences. Firefox 3 will no longer support Windows 95, 98, and Me; the same with Mac OS X, versions 10.2 and earlier. There will also be numerous changes made to the Document Object Model (DOM) within Gekko 1.9 that will affect developers more than users. Also, there will be changes in the way Firefox renders frames within its display and the way object tags are handled, as well as changes in event threading.
For a user, the project known as Places is worthy of praise, as it creates a light database of history, bookmarks, and tags within the browser that can be searched, sorted, and organized. How you access the database gives rise to many new features within Firefox 3.
One obvious change is the Smart Location Bar (aka "awesome bar"). As you type in a URL, the awesome bar searches through your history and bookmarks and presents a drop-down list of recently accessed pages with that same keyword. It works even if you already know the URL. Some people have found it to be annoying, so there is a way to disable it requiring a small tweak to the about:config file. An Add-On further allows you to learn which of the search results you want to always be on top.
Immediately after the URL and just before the RSS icon is the new Star icon. Click it once to store the page's URL as a bookmark; click it twice to assign the bookmark to a new or existing folder. You can also give it tags: short keywords to help when searching through your bookmarks. Use the new Library feature to create and store searches.
Also new is Full Page Zoom. Unlike Opera, Firefox hides the Zoom feature within the View toolbar option and doesn't increment: just big or small. Hopefully Mozilla will refine this feature in Firefox 4.
Enhancements within Firefox 3 include changes to the Add-Ons manager. Now Firefox presents a list of popular Add-Ons without redirecting your browser to a Web page. From the manager you can install the recommended Add-Ons directly. There is still a link to the addons.mozilla.org page where you can find more than 5,000 add-ons written for Firefox.
Another enhancement is within the Download Manager. Mozilla has added search and improved the ability to start and resume downloads.
There are also numerous security features such as Malware and Phishing protection, Instant Web site ID, support for the Extended Validation Secure Socket Layer (EV SSL), enhancements to the Password manager, and greater security for Add-Ons.
As for performance, Firefox 3 does significantly reduce the amount of system resources used when compared with Firefox 2. That alone makes Firefox 3 a worthy upgrade. Throughout our informal testing at CNET, Firefox 3 has been stable enough for day-to-day office use since Beta 5. Although there have been some minor, intermittent glitches when accessing Google-related pages, those problems appear to have been addressed in the final release. The performance, features, and security make Firefox 3 stand out as the best Internet browser available today.
But wait, there's more. Following Firefox 3 comes early word of Firefox 3.1. Features expected within the next incremental release include tab previews and autocomplete for tagging bookmarks. An Alpha for Firefox 3.1 is expected to be available sometime in July 2008.