Mozilla has released the Firefox 3 Beta 2. As expected, this release is more about polishing the long list of features and improvements introduced during the previous nine milestones (eight alphas and a beta). But, as usual, there’s room for some noticeable changes.
Between Beta 1 and Beta 2, the location bar (informally called the “awesome bar”) became almighty. Where Beta 1 introduced the ability to search the entered terms not only in the history web addresses but anywhere in web addresses and not also in the History but bookmarks and bookmark titles and tags, Beta 2 focuses on how to make this information easier for the user to scan and identify what he’s looking for.
Results for the location bar autocomplete are shown in two lines: one for the page title and the other for the web address, in different colors so it is easier to isolate one or another depending on what you know you are looking for (a title or an address). Also, matched terms are highlighted to direct attention.
You may also notice that the Go button has changed. While its look is not final, its behavior most surely is: it is only shown when you are entering a web address in the location bar, replacing temporarily the star and web feed icons. During normal browsing the Go button is hidden for a cleaner look.
Now you can change the search engine in the search bar by scrolling over the search engine icon with the mouse wheel. I’ve discovered that it’s not as useful as I thought it would be when I first learned about it. I find it faster to select the search engine from the list.
On Windows, when you drag a text selection, an image, a tab and mostly anything, you get a translucent image attached to the mouse cursor to help you know what you are moving. This change was available for Mac OS X and also Linux in the previous beta if I recall correctly.
Places, the integrated history and bookmarks manager keeps getting better.
Beta 2 added much expected full search features. You are now able to search History (added for Beta 2), tags and bookmarks with a fully fledged search interface where you can select where to search (History, Bookmarks Menu, Bookmarks Toolbar, All Bookmarks or the selected folder), and what to search (visited date, web address or title). Plus you can add as many rules as necessary and then save the search as a dynamic folder that updates as your bookmarks and history change.
Unfortunately, the page preview was removed from the properties pane.
For a complete list of features in Firefox 3, add the following list with links to details as they’ve been covered here in Mozilla Links:
- Color management support: Firefox 3 uses color profiles embedded on pictures and images some cameras and other devices include for better replication of environment conditions as light and focus.
- The Page Info dialog has been revamped for clearer details of the current web page
- Web protocol/content handling allow Firefox to open certain protocols and document types directly with web services like Yahoo Mail, Google Docs, Google Calendar and may others.
- Offline web applications support. Web developers can mark certain web page components such as images and scripts to be available while offline. In practice you could be able to compose emails or write documents though a web service while disconnected from the Internet.
- You can makediscontinuous selections for better control on what you copy or print from a web page.
- The search engine manager allows to set and change keywords for search engines. With keywords you could enter w hawaii in the locationbar and search Wikipedia for Hawaii if the w keyword has been associated for the Wikipedia search engine.
- Added support for Camellia encryption.
- Among minor tweaks: Firefox will always prompt if you want to save the currently open tab set, tabs scroll smoothly, better styling for local file, FTP and gopher listings and a warning when accessing advanced preferences (about:config).
- A new plugin manager has been added to the add-ons manager. Now it is easy to disable specific plugins for troubleshooting or for enhancing performance.
- Firefox can save site specific preferences. For example you could allow just some pages to use AJAX, set a specific spell checker language, images, etc. Firefox 3 will remember the zoom level you have applied for a certain site and will zoom automatically the next time you visit it.
- A much needed memory cycle collector is now in place and it should take care of freeing memory no longer used by modules that requested them and didn’t released it properly.
- Firefox 3 passes the Acid2 test, a popular test of a browser styling standard compatibility.
- Support for editable content. Web page contents marked as editable can be customized by the user.
- Switch to open source Cairo rendering engine for better performance. The change also enables easy PDF printing capabilities. So far it is only possible through an extension though.
- More beautiful animated images are possible with animated PNGs (APNG): a full 16 million color palette and partial transparency will hopefully sweep GIF images in the future.
- Sites known for serving spyware, rootkits, viruses, dialers and other kinds of malware will trigger an antimalware alert. The list of known malware sites is provided by stopbadware.org and served by Google.
- Better OS integration. For Mac users: native Cocoa widgets and Growl (the popular integrated notification app). For Vista users, native Vista menus.
- Proprietary TalkBack, the tool for reporting crashes to Mozilla, has been replaced with open source Breakpad.
- The password manager now prompts to store an entered password so you can decide after knowing the password is correct or not and avoid cluttering autocomplete lists.
- The Download Manager has been revamped with an easier to track download list, support for Windows Vista parental controls. Downloaded files are passed to the installed antivirus if present.
The spell checker is now based on Hunspell which delivers better suggestions and support for more complex grammars.
- Download resuming across sessions.
- The Site Button provides details on the currently visited site identity based on its certificates.
As long as the list is, there’s still some interesting stuff to come. Most notably the visual refresh that will make Firefox 3 look better integrated with the officially supported operating systems.
I must mention that while this beta feels very stable and speedy in general, some times it just seems to hang up for a few seconds. This may be an atypical case though. For me, there’s still plenty of time for memory and other resources usage optimization so hopefully this will get ironed on time.
Code freeze for Beta 3 is expected for the end of January, so Beta 3 should be around by early February and followed by a few release candidates. It is less clear if there will be a fourth beta but depending on this Firefox 3 final should be here on early March or April.
Beta 2 is not recommended for general consumption but for developers and enthusiasts. If you want to try it, I’d suggest backing up your profile folder before installing it just to be 100% safe.
Get Firefox 3 Beta 2 from Mozilla web site. Available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux in more than 25 languages (with more to come as final approaches).