Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Firefox 3, beta #5: Is it usable yet?

Normally I don't use beta software because of potential bugs, but I began using firefox way back when, before it was even offically released, because it was already so good. Now we have the latest beta version of Firefox 3 about to be released. Just how usable is it? Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols at asks that very question, in this review of Beta#4. (Beta#5 is due to be released tomorrow):

Is Firefox 3 ready for prime time?
[...] Over the last few days, I've used this system for my usual work and fun. The first thing I noticed is that, even as a beta, Firefox 3 is faster than Firefox 2.12. In particular, screen updates were snappier.

That was impressive, but what was far more impressive was how Firefox ripped through JavaScript-based applications and applets. Here, I found that Firefox 3 ran about three times as fast as Firefox 2 with the same programs. For example, Firefox 3 zoomed along in Gmail.

This wasn't just my impression. Using the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark, Firefox 3 Beta 4 ran this popular JavaScript basics benchmark in 5,694.6 milliseconds. Firefox 2.12 ran the same tests in 19,616 milliseconds. So, it's actually running JavaScript faster than my eyes alone were telling me.

What made me even happier than Firefox's newly boosted performance is that the new version finally does a decent job of memory management. In the past, Firefox was like a boat with holes in the hull. It would run great at first, but as time went on it would leak more and more memory, and it would get slower and slower. Eventually, and I know because I've seen it, it would sink.

This time the developers have patched up hundreds of memory leaks and the good ship Firefox can run without slowing and sinking a system from constantly leaking memory. Better still, Firefox now includes its own memory garbage collector: the XPCOM Cycle Collector. With this, Firefox modules can do a much better job of releasing memory to the system when it's no longer needed by any running routines.

As far as features are concerned, Firefox 3 comes with a greatly augmented Places Organizer that works hand-in-glove with the Location bar & auto-completion and the Smart Bookmarks Folder. This gives you, for example, the ability to add tags to bookmarks or Web pages, and then easily search for, say, Web pages tagged "Red Hat" that you've looked at in the last week. My one problem with this is that I have never been convinced of the value of tagging. To me, it's always seemed a lazy way of organizing that's all too prone to typos. I'm far happier using a cataloging system to keep track of what's what. Your browser usage may vary.

The beta browser also has several security improvements. One that I really appreciate is that now when I log onto a password-protected site, Firefox 3 asks me whether I want to save my password, after I've managed to log in. As one of the fastest, but sloppiest, typists in the known universe, I really appreciate Firefox waiting until I get it right before asking if I want to preserve my password. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) Wow, this sounds like it's going to be really good, I may download beta 5 and find out for myself. See the full article for embedded links and more information.


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