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5/17/2008
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Firefox 3 Release Candidate 1 Now Available

Barring any serious bugs, RC1 will become the official release version of Firefox 3, set for release in June.

Mozilla Corporation on Friday released Firefox 3 RC1, more or less the final form of this iteration of the popular open-source Web browser. RC stands for Release Candidate and represents a stage in which the browser's features are complete and the code is stable enough for public testing. Barring any serious bugs, RC1 will become the official release version of Firefox 3, which is planned for June.

Firefox 3 offers significantly improved speed and memory usage.

Mozilla VP of engineering Mike Schroepfer claims that Firefox 3 is 9.3x faster than Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 and 2.7x faster than Firefox 2 in terms of JavaScript performance. In terms of Gmail message load time, he claims Firefox 3 is 6.8x faster than IE7 and 3.8x faster than Firefox 2. And he says Firefox 3 beats Apple's Safari, which is also faster than Firefox 2.

Schroepfer says that Firefox 3 uses for 4.7x less memory than IE7. This is significant achievement given that earlier versions of Firefox have a reputation for using a lot of memory. (As this article was being written, Firefox 2.0.0.14 had claim on 103,728K of memory on my PC while Outlook required 107,856K. IE6 meanwhile demanded a mere 17,548K).

Firefox 3 comes with more than 15,000 improvements, according Mozilla, but you have to be counting tiny changes very carefully to get to that number. More likely, you'll notice maybe two dozen new and improved features.

The major new additions include the Smart Location Bar, One-Click Bookmarks, Tags, Library, Smart Bookmark Folder, the Gecko 1.9 Engine, Malware Protection, Instant Web Site ID, and Full Page Zoom.

Features that aren't new but have nonetheless been reworked include the Add-On Manager, the Download Manager, Phishing Protection, the Password Manager, Security for Add-Ons, UI/OS Design Consistency, and Tabbed Browsing.

The Smart Location Bar is the box that where Firefox users typically type URLs. In Firefox 3, it has become search-enabled, with respect to the user's search history. Typing a terms like "jeans" will return a drop-down list of Web sites related to that term. Schroepfer acknowledged that this might diminish searches done through the search box at the top right side of the browser, for which Firefox gets paid if Google is the selected search engine. However, he said that a better use experience was more important.

Another standout feature is Instant Web site ID, which provides a way to see Extended Validation SSL certificate information, when available, by clicking on a site's favicon -- the little graphic that many Web sites display to the left of the browser location (URL) bar. When you use this feature, a display box extends down from the location bar with details about the site being visited and its owner. The graphic can't be easily spoofed using JavaScript, so it should be difficult for malware sites to spoof this trust mechanism. Sites that figure prominently in cyber scams, like eBay, should benefit from this feature.

It's worth noting however that a report by Netcraft on May 16 about a cross-site scripting vulnerability on paypal.com suggests that Extended Validation SSL certificates can be abused.

Other security features deserve mention as well. The new malware and phishing protections built into Firefox 3 help prevent users from accessing sites blacklisted for hosting malware. The blacklist, which relies heavily on data provided by Google, is updated every 30 minutes.

If you haven't yet taken Firefox for a test drive, the browser's latest incarnation has a lot to recommend doing so.

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