Firefox 3.1 beta 1: Damn, this thing is fast!
First Look Review – Installing and running Firefox 3.1 beta 1 is a revealing
experience. Just like Chrome reminded us a few weeks ago, the basics of
a browser matter. While Microsoft is figuring out new proprietary
features for Internet Explorer 8, Apple, Google and Chrome have been
working on the browser foundation and made their software much more
nimble. The speed improvements that have been made in less than a year
are nothing short of amazing. We have been using Firefox 3.1 beta 1 for
a day now and we have come to two conclusions: We refuse to go back to
a previous version and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is in deep
At first sight
A closer look: New Firefox 3.1 beta 1 features
- JS speed gains: Mozilla claims JS speed gains of up to 40x thanks to an optimized engine called TraceMonkey. There is virtually no way to verify this claim in a real world browsing experience, but at least subjectively, sites like Facebook and Google Docs feel much snappier. Complex layouts render noticeably faster, courtesy of the Gecko 1.9.1 rendering engine. In a side-by-side comparison, Firefox 3.1 beta 1 eliminates many delays we are used to today when a layout is built in the browser window. Even complex pages are built almost instantly.
Earlier today, our managing editor wrote that "the new Firefox plays in the same league as Google Chrome." And subjectively, I believe that this is a fair statement. In direct comparison, Chrome still seemed to have a slight edge on our system, but the difference was negligible. We here at TG Daily believe that there is true value in those speed gains as it makes your browsing much more efficient, reduces wait times and prepares the browser for future applications. This is by far the most noteworthy browser enhancement since the introduction of phishing filters.
- Geolocation API: FF3.1 taps third-party services to determine and feed your location to sites that will then create personalized content, news and information relevant to your current geographical location. You will be able to set the extent of the geolocation feature. The Mozilla Labs add-on Geode is currently required for this functionality but shipping desktop and mobile version of FF (code-named Fennec) will include geolocation features by default. This is certainly a killer feature, but also a potential privacy nightmare, as explained in our Yahoo! FireEagle story. In our opinion, any service that transmits your location to services you have no control over should be used with caution.
- Ctrl-Tab: There is a new Ctrl-Tab shortcut with SHIFT modifier that cycles forward and backward through open tabs.
Read on the next page: Future feartures, Conclusion
- Privacy mode: Better known as the "Pr0n" mode, a private browsing session enables anonymous surfing, which is useful when you need to use a friend's computer or a public terminal. Chrome, Safari and IE8 offer private browsing modes called Incognito, Private Browsing, and InPrivate, respectively. Stealthier currently offers a private browsing add-on for current FF versions.
- Speed Dial: Opera users are already used to a feature that puts a grid of most visited sites' thumbnails on new tabs. Google integrated a similar feature in Chrome. It will also arrive with FF3.1, based on a Speed Dial add-on that enables similar functionality in current FF versions.
- Tab bar tweaks: the final FF3.1 release will add 3D site thumbnails to Ctrl-Tabbing, in addition to a new tabs preview pane and tab searching field.
- Better controls over private data deletion: FF3.1 will provide a deeper granularity when deleting private browsing items with an exact time and data range to erase each item - unlike Chrome that only offers the last day, last week and last four weeks worth of data.
- Nice-to-haves: FF3.1 should also bring some features dropped from the current release due to time constraints such as a download history in the Library, smart folders of downloaded files, additional control and privacy options for the URL bar, a new interface for multiple criteria queries, tag auto-complete, bulk tag bookmarks, and a drop-down menu with context-sensitive options for content zooming.
Firefox 3.1 beta 1 looks nice, really nice. With more features to come in the shipping version, this is a must-have release. And quite frankly, Firefox 3.1 is probably the browser Firefox 3.0 should have been. The browser feels mature and nimble and most users may consider Firefox 3.1 beta 1, despite its beta stage, the best browser available today.
We can’t help but look at the current browser race. Microsoft has definitely put much more enthusiasm in its browser development recently, but we believe that Microsoft somehow missed the importance of JS optimization in the browser arena. In direct comparison, IE8 feels like a browser from a different time and we mean that in a negative way. Comparing Firefox 3.1 beta 1 against IE8 beta 2 is, if you don’t care about Microsoft’s new proprietary features and privacy browsing support, a no contest scenario.
Net Application's browser web usage share report of 40,000 monitored sites for September puts IE at a usage share of about 71.5%, more than 3.9 points down from January of this year. Firefox is at about 19.5%, up about 2.5 points in the same time frame. The data shows that users are willing to switch to an alternative browser and Microsoft should take this threat seriously. It is somewhat remarkable that Microsoft is not focusing more on the current technology trends but pitches new proprietary technologies, such as web slices, we believe the web does not need.
We have no doubt that the Internet Explorer is in deep trouble.
TraceMonkey is switched off by default, but you can enable it by following these steps:
1. Type about:config in the URL bar
3. Double-click on the entry to set the value to true
4. Close the browser window and restart the browser