Firefox 3.6 Alpha 1 review

Mozilla has released Firefox 3.6 Alpha 1, the first development step in the way for Firefox 3.6 (code named Namoroka), targeted for later this year.

One of the main themes in this release is making Firefox feel snappier to the user: whether you are launching it, opening a new tab, a sidebar, there is a difference on whether the action is done fast and perceived fast.

In this area, you will notice that web pages now scroll faster thanks to acceleration activated after a few mouse wheel scrolls.

User experience

A new feature provides better autocomplete recommendations for previously entered form fields: instead of an alphabetically ordered list, it is sorted by frecency (a combined index of frequency and recency of use) so the most likely values are displayed first. Also, the characters you type are searched in all previously entered strings not just the beginning as in Firefox 3.5.

Originally planned for Firefox 3.0 and 3.5, tabs preview got backed out in both development cycles. It is back again to provide visual tab switching: press Ctrl + Tab and you get preview of the current along with the five most recently used tabs, plus an option to show all tabs’ thumbnails including a search bar.

Also back is the new behavior for single Ctrl + Tab:  instead of moving to the next tab in the tab bar, you switch to the previously used tab.

Unlike previous attempts, this time tab preview and the new tab switching behavior are off by default. To enable tab preview, set browser.ctrlTab.previews to true via about:config. For the new behavior, set browser.ctrlTab.mostRecentlyUsed to true.

A new full screen button is now available in the customize toolbar dialog for users who prefer mouse browsing. There’s always F11 for hard core keyboard users.

Better Session Restore

Has this happened to you? You want to restart Firefox, so you close your only window, then double click the Firefox icon and instead of your tabs you get your home page only. What happened? You then realize that there was a non browser window (the Add-ons or Download manager)  also opened, so you just got a new window. Starting with alpha 1, Firefox is smarter about this and will restore your tabs whenever it finds no other browser window open.

Performance

JavaScript optimizations (TraceMonkey) are improved and are also now available for the user interface by default. You can do the same in Firefox 3.5 setting javascript.options.jit.chrome to true via about:config. I have been using it that way since the Firefox 3.5 alphas or betas and haven’t had  a problem, so I think it is is safe to have it enabled by now.

Web Development

In the development front, support for multiple background images, gradients, rem units (root font size) in CSS. It scores 94 in Acid3 (the web standards compliance test), one point more than Firefox 3.5.

As said, Firefox 3.6 is targeted for later this year. A previous Namoroka draft plan included a lot of significant new features borrowed from Prism, Ubiquity, Personas, and Jetpack Mozilla Labs’ extensions, but it is hard to imagine all or even any of these will get in for a fall release.

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