Review: Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 -- The Best Is Yet To Come - InformationWeek

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03:55 PM

Review: Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 -- The Best Is Yet To Come

Despite a potentially powerful new geolocation feature, users won't see much difference between Firefox 3.0 and 3.1 -- at least, not yet.

Has it already been four months since Firefox 3.0 shipped? Seems like only yesterday. It included exciting enhancements to make browsing the Internet faster and more convenient, including redesigns to the address bar, bookmarks and history, and zooming Web pages.

Its new location-awareness technology lets FireFox 3.1 know where you are.
(click for image gallery)

Now, Firefox 3.1 beta 1 is out, with a new geolocation service, a new, faster, JavaScript engine, enhancements to the tab-switching, and further refinements to the address bar. It's anticlimactic after the big Firefox 3.0 release -- but then again, it's only the first beta, and it's only a dot-release.

Potentially the most transformative new feature in Firefox 3.1 is the new geolocation service.

Geolocation is a JavaScript API that allows your browser to tell a Web page where you are. Right now, you have to manually enter your location into Firefox, but soon the browser developers plan to build in support for the Skyhook service, which triangulates your location based on detecting known nearby wireless points; and on-board GPS built into laptops.

To test Geolocation with Firefox 3.1 beta 1, you need to download and install the Geolocation Firefox add-on, and then use it to enter your location manually. Then go to FoodFinder, a Google Maps mash-up for demoing geolocation. The browser will ask for your permission to give out your location. You can choose whether to give your pinpoint location, or just your general neighborhood in a one-mile radius. Click the permission button, and FoodFinder will show you nearby restaurants.

Even in its current, limited form, I can see Geolocation being useful. If your computer is always in the same location, in your den at home or on your desk in the office, you can enter that location once into Firefox, and then save yourself the trouble of re-typing your address into every mapping application and store-finder on the Internet.

Geolocation will be even more useful with a notebook or handheld device running the new mobile version of Firefox, once integration into Skyhook and GPS is complete.

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