A 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.
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.
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.