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First Look: Firefox 3 web browser

updated 12:05 pm EDT, Mon June 23, 2008

First Look: Firefox 3

For years, Internet Explorer defined the standard for web browsers. After years of neglect and security flaws however, the browser grew less popular, prompting the release of a number of rivals. Perhaps the most successful competition has been the open source Firefox browser, which emphasizes security foremost. Now with version 3, the browser also boasts faster speed along with a host of other improvements.

The most obvious of these is its new native user interfaces. In the past, Firefox looked identical whether running on Linux, Mac OS X or Windows. Although this made Firefox easier to use across multiple operating systems, it also made the browser look clunky and ugly on all platforms. With its native interface options, the browser can finally blend its appearance into whatever OS it's running on, without losing its standard controls.

Another handy interface feature is that the Back button is slightly larger than the Forward button. Though the asymmetry may be a little disconcerting, since more people use the Back button than the Forward button, it does makes the program more intuitive.

The Address Bar features an icon that lets you view the details of the currently displayed page, such as how many times you've visited it, whether the page is storing a cookie, and if you're viewing it using encryption. This information can be handy when you're typing in your credit card number, particularly since it helps identify scam sites tricking you into sharing valuable information.

If you type directly into the Address Bar, the program displays a drop-down list of previously-visited sites that match the text you've entered. So if you type in the letters "wi," you might see a list showing that you've once visited Wired magazine, a story about wine, or an article about Windows. This feature can be great for tracing your steps without wading through a History file. To view a complete list of your last-visited sites, you just click on the downward-pointing arrow on the far right of the bar.

The Address Bar displays a list of previously-visited sites based on the characters you type

The bar also includes a special one-click bookmark icon. Instead of bookmarking a page through pull-down menus, you can now click on this button and save a page right away, though it stores entries in a special unsorted folder. Later, you can move bookmarks into the toolbar or a pull-down menu to make them easier to locate.

Another highlight of the browser is a built-in password manager. Rather than torture yourself by memorizing multiple passwords, you can opt to have them kept within Firefox. The next time you visit a site, then, the browser will insert your passwords automatically.

Since many pages cram text onto a screen, you can zoom in or out. To prevent graphics from enlarging at the same time and crowding out a display, you have the option of enlarging both text and graphics or text alone.

System crashes are a fact of life regardless of what OS you're using. To reduce frustration, the browser has long offered an option to retrieve the last pages you were viewing before a crash. Now, though, if you were downloading a file, the download manager lets you resume transfers, so you don't have to download a file from the beginning.

Mozilla claims that version 3 is two to three times faster than version 2. While browsing speeds are noticeably faster in version 3, the browser still can't lay claim as the fastest. According to
Celtic Kane's JavaScript speed tests, Firefox 3 is generally slower than Safari 3.1, if faster than Opera 9.5.

JavaScript speed test (ms)

If you're already a Firefox user, then the upgrade to version 3 will likely be worth it. If you're already using another browser like Safari 3.1, download and test Firefox 3 to see how it compares to your favorite. The latest version may not be the fastest choice available, but it could offer enough compelling features to convince you that your new favorite should be different.

by MacNN Staff



  1. David Esrati

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Spellcheck with Wordpress

    However, automatic spell check as you type no longer works within Wordpress- forcing you to use the WordPress spell check.
    This is a bit funky for those of us used to getting check as you type spelling from FireFox.
    See this post for details:

  1. Super Glitcher

    Joined: Dec 1969


    iWeb galleries don't work

    Firefox 3 also has a javascript issue with galleries created in iWeb. They just don't show up. There's a workaround script you can download that fixes the problem here:

  1. Uncommon

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I did some click testing, and it turns out the forward button only looks smaller. Clicking above or below it still counts.

    In fact this also goes for other buttons like Reload, which I would call incorrect behavior.

  1. e:leaf

    Joined: Dec 1969


    You visited

    Yahoo 307 times the day you took that screen shot? I like Yahoo, but 307 times?

    And the new back-button-is-larger-than-the-forward-button decision is a good one I think, for the reasons you mention; for every time I press the forward button, I press back 50 times (or more), it does, however, have a phallic look to it with sack on left, shaft on right.

  1. stratology

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Compare how this page here renders in Safari, as compared to Firefox. Look at the drop down menus at the top, and the text on the left of the search field. Safari will remain my default browser...

  1. christophersj

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Not iWeb Compatible

    FireFox 3 KILLS iWeb reader comments. In cold blood.

  1. plink53

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I ran FF 3 against the acid3 test and it failed, only getting around 70. I would think they would have made sure this worked better before releasing FF.

  1. elroth

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I don't like the big "Back" button - you can change it by going to the view menu and customizing the toolbar, choosing "small icons."

    Does anyone know how to get rid of the star and the drop-down menu on the right side of the address bar? It annoys me no end.

    I use Firefox for my secondary browser (Safari first), and that won't change, but Firefox's design choices still bother me.

  1. staloysius777

    Joined: Dec 1969


    3 up on Safari!

    Firefox beats Safari; hands down!... buuuuut I still prefer Safari.

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Little issues....

    iWeb photo pages not working is not good.... The keyboard shortcut to mail a link doesn't work anymore, even if you set it up in OSX prefs... And the "acid test" is pitiful! Maybe I'll try it again when 3.0.1 drops....

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