Firefox 3 Alpha 5 is out

Firefox 3 Alpha 5 About pageA little more than a month after Alpha 4 and a week later that the scheduled May 30 release date, Mozilla has released the fifth alpha of Firefox 3.

This release is again notably focused in providing behind the scenes support for the planned features.

First, the password manager has been rewritten in JavaScript from its original C++ code. The migration will make it more secure and easier to maintain and integrate with other authentication methods like Keychain, Mac OS X’s integrated authentication system.

Mac OS X users will be pleased to know that support for native Mac OS widgets has been added, so you will get a more natural look in Mac OS as well. While on the Mac OS X department, it has also been announced that support for Mac OS X versions 10.2 and older will be dropped. While in terms of users it may not be have very significant impact I find it hard to drop support for an OS that is just fours years old. You may recall that when Mozilla announced last year that Firefox 3 would drop support for Windows 9x a lot of people complained in blogs and tech web sites. And we were talking of 7 – 12 years old versions.

JavaScript 1.8 is also in the works. So far, generator expressions, array reduce and expression closure are in and should make web developers happier. On the end user side, this means of course more powerful web applications.

A second iteration of FUEL, 0.2, is also included with focus on tab handling and bookmarking. FUEL is a JavaScript library that adds a powerful set of functions and objects to ease extension development. At the same time since FUEL gets the full Mozilla quality assurance treatment it should also enhance overall extensions quality as they start using it.

Most notable step is the migration of bookmarks to the Places infrastructure. Places is the integrated bookmarks and history facility that will ease the access to a user’s personal web. Another expected feature of places if the addition of tagging, so instead of manually organizing your bookmarks into folders you just add some tags: for example to bookmark your favorite Peruvian food recipe you’d add food, Peru, and recipe tags. When you need to retrieve it you just filter the food or Peru or a combination of them to access it.

Places is powered by SQLite, an embeddable open source database that provides storage and querying capabilities. Since SQLite is completely focused on data storage it provides much more efficient mechanisms than Firefox’s current history and bookmarks deliver. This change to a more specialized provider for specific services follow the trend started with the migration to NSIS for the installer and Cairo for the graphics layer, another improvement that Firefox 3 will bring.

I managed to play a little with Places database (places.sqlite in your profile) using sqlite3, a command line application for accessing SQLite databases available for Windows and Linux. It is so fun to mix SQL and Firefox and possibilities huge.

Places database in sqlite3

With the move of bookmarks to the Places architecture, the back end is now complete since History already made the move on last December (around Alpha 1). Places was dropped last year by Firefox 2 Alpha 2 release as it was considered that it’d be too much effort to be done by the estimated final release. So this time Mozilla opted for a staged migration. After some ironing that may be necessary during the next few days/weeks, we can expect to see user interface pieces coming along.

In fact, Alex Faaborg has already started calling for comments on user interface and work flow proposals. The same is going on for location bar improvements, content handling, private browsing and notifications. All aiming for clearer, less obtrusive communication for a faster, safer web experience.

An important improvement we’re seeing in Firefox 3 development is betterdocumentation for changes coming to Firefox 3 aimed for developers is already available and will be kept updated, to give developers plenty of time to have their extensions and themes updated for Firefox 3 by the time it ships.

The Download Manager is also now managed through a SQLite database (downloads.sqlite in your profile folder). Infrastructure for offline web applications support, identity management and site-specific preferences has also landed in this release.

Among the long list of other bug fixes I noticed a curious but useful one: as you may know, you can create a new tab by double clicking an empty area in the tab bar. However if you accidentally triple click, the third click could happen on the close button of the recently opened tab thus closing it which may be confusing for users trying this trick for the first time. It has been corrected. It’s nice to see this kind of attention to detail.

The next milestone, Alpha 6, is schedule for June 29, but I guess the first week of July is a better estimate considering this release delay.

As all alphas this release is not intended for general consumption but testing. Daredevils however will be happy to know Places makes a backup of your bookmarks before migrating them to the SQLite database. You may also want to worry about the password and downloads manager which may exhibit a funny behavior.

Gran Paradiso Alpha 5 Release Notes.

10 thoughts on “Firefox 3 Alpha 5 is out”

  1. Having not seen any screenshots of the Places interface, I’m a bit leery of the feature. The way it’s described sounds potential revolutionary, but at the same time too radically different. I like the idea of clicking a menu item and having a drop-down list of my bookmarks. With a small number of exceptions, I only bookmark the sites I visit most often. Everything else is relegated to del.icio.us. It almost sounds like an extra step is being added to bookmarks. If I lose that drop-down simplicity I may just stick with Firefox 2

  2. Jeff, the thing is there’s nothing to take a screenshot of yet. So far all the work regarding Places has focused on infrastructure.

    I think we can all rest assure bookmarking will be kept as a single click task.

  3. Ah, that explains some things. After posting my initial comment I went and downloaded to build, but could never find Places. I was very confused there for a while.

    Thanks for the info though. I’ll keep that in mind

  4. Matt, what’s the questioning? I’ve seen the mockups and so far, regarding places, they are all proposals for including tagging in the bookmarking process.

  5. Nice overview of the last alpha release!

    “Among the long list of other bug fixes I noticed a curious but useful one: as you may know, you can create a new tab by double clicking an empty area in the tab bar. However if you accidentally triple click, the third click could happen on the close button of the recently opened tab thus closing it which may be confusing for users trying this trick for the first time. It has been corrected. It’s nice to see this kind of attention to detail.”

    Indeed, nice to see, but I’m wondering whether there will be a easy to see / discover way to open a new tab. A lot of new users would benefit from that. It can be as simple as a button (like in Opera and IE). Is there such a bug filed already?

  6. I as well would like to see a new tab button available in the tab bar. I guess a bug must have been files already but couldn’t find it in a quick search.

  7. You’re probably right and it might happen in a/the big UI overhaul. Don’t know whether is has real priority among the developers (I haven’t seen it on the feature list either).

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  9. I am converting over to Firefox and going to recommend all my customers do as well. The only thing holding me back is the Adobe Acrobat save a Web page as PDF button that installs into IE. I use this button all the time and so do my customers. I know I can get around it by using the print to PDF option, but it is nice to have a one click button in the browser. I wish Adobe would add Firefox to their installation…

    I think Firefox is a great product, keep up the great work!

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