Firefox 3 RC 1 full review

A year and a half after the last major Firefox release, Firefox 3 Release Candidate 1 is here with  a very long list of new features and improvements.

For those who have been following Firefox 3 development you may want to jump to What’s new in Release Candidate 1.

For the whole scoop, make yourself comfortable and read on.


Firefox 3 gets several performance improvement gains. Among them, profile guided optimizations (PGO) provides an optimized Firefox build based on the way it internally works. So far it is only available for Windows.

A very noticeable gain can be seen in JavaScript: it is about three times faster than Firefox 2 implementation. JavaScript is twice as important for Firefox since it is not only used in a large number of web pages but it’s also what makes Firefox UI work.

Memory wise, a much needed memory cycle collector is now in place to take care of freeing memory no longer used by modules that requested it but failed to release it properly. This and other memory oriented tweaks, seem to have paid off so far: a set of tests I recently ran suggests a noticeable increase in memory management efficiency with more memory freed as tabs and windows are closed and no mysterious memory eaten up when Firefox is kept open and idle for several hours as it has been reported several times in the past for Firefox 2.


A much announced and expected feature is Places, the integrated history and bookmarks manager interface powered by SQLite, a small open source database engine that provides much more robust querying capabilities.

With Places you are able to search your history, tags and bookmarks with a fully fledged search interface. You can select where to search (History, Bookmarks Menu, Bookmarks Toolbar, All Bookmarks or the selected folder), and then save the search as a Smart Bookmark that updates as your personal web grows and changes.

The Library, Places manager, also adds backup and restore UI so it is easier to recover a damaged file or incorrectly deleted bookmark.

Tagging is a new Firefox feature tightly related with Places and some of the changes to the location bar: click on an empty star icon in the location bar to save the current page as a bookmark. Click it again and you can specify a folder to save the bookmark to, create a new one and add tags you can later search on.

The Location Bar

The autocomplete list that appears when you start entering letters in the location bar is no longer restricted to web addresses but also looks into bookmark and history page titles and tags which make it more comprehensive.

Suggestions are shown in two different lines and colors for page titles and addresses, which according to studies on human cognition, makes it easier for us to focus on what we are looking for. So, if the user knows she is entering part of a web address or a page title it will be easier for her to find what she’s looking for. Highlighting the match result also helps to direct the user’s attention.

It features adaptive learning so after a few repetitions Firefox will learn what letter combinations you use for what site and will provide better suggestions. This should address the case where frecency (a combined frequency and recency index) didn’t provide the best results.

You can also perform multiword searches, so for example “firefox downloads” filters address, titles and tags containing both words but not necessarily in that order.

I believe this feature alone is the best Firefox 3 has to offer, justifies Places large resources investment and will become a landmark in Firefox and web browsers in general development. Once you get used to it, there is no turning back.

Visual Refresh

One of the most visible changes are the theme updates in all platforms with a strong emphasis in making Firefox feel as a native application on each operating system.

On Windows the theme is called Strata. Here’s how it looks on Vista.

And here is on Windows XP.

The Options window on Windows Vista with the new icons.

Mac OS X users get Firelight, a new Safari-like theme introduced with Beta 2, formerly known as Proto.

Linux users get Tango, a theme that blends with Gnome native icons.

Firefox 3 Beta 3 on Ubuntu

The back and forward buttons have been combined in a single keyhole-shaped widget with a single history menu and is now featured in all platforms except Linux.

According to the new guidelines, consistency across platforms is kept through icons shape while OS integration is provided by texture. In Linux case, it’s very hard to set one due to the many available distributions and their particular themes.

For more details on the Firefox 3 themes update, check out Alex Faaborg’s post.

Search bar resizer

There’s an invisible splitter between the location and search bars that you can use to set their width when they are placed next to each other.

Developers are aiming to deliver better operating system integration in Firefox 3. This will be most notable for Mac OS X and Linux users who will now get native widgets like text boxes, menus, check boxes, icons, button order and orientation following each OS guidelines.

Mac OS X users get integration with Growl, a popular centralized notification system, while Windows Vista gets native looking menus and blue icons that blend better with overall Vista look.

See more Windows XP, Vista and Linux screenshots in this recent post.

The Page Information dialog has been reviewed to become more organized and informative and allows to set all site specific preference from a single location.

Tabbed Browsing

On tabbed browsing, Firefox will not only warn you when closing several tabs and windows at once but will prompt if you want to save the currently open tab set: a good catch and a good way to introduce this helpful feature to new users.

Tabs now scroll smoothly.

You can duplicate and move tabs (including its history and current status). To clone, press Ctrl while dragging a tab, or just drag them across windows to move. A very helpful addition!

54 thoughts on “Firefox 3 RC 1 full review”

  1. Why do you copy/paste you old posts all the time ?
    That’s not what we call a “review”…

    1. Oh, it isn’t obvious? Because most of the details about some features doesn’t change, and there’s no point in writing the same stuff over and over again. I usually update the screenshot so they remain current, add new features, remove backed out ones, consolidate changes, etc.

      Even doing that it took about four hours to me to update this review and the “what’s new” post.

  2. Here’s a tip for shaving some time off your browsing in Firefox 3:

    When typing into the location bar, use Tab, Return, to select the first suggestion in the dropdown. Much more comfortable than moving your hand and doing Down, Return.

  3. I don’t see how Gmail can be made the default for mailing (mailto: links). I only see Yahoo and Windows Mail and no way to add new services

    1. Omega, Firefox 3 ships with the registerProtocolHandler() JavaScript interface that makes adding mailto or any other web protocol handles a matter of two clicks. The thing is neither Gmail not Live Mail provide a web address capable of handling mailto: links and process subject, to, and body parameters properly.

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  5. Responding to:
    “Among them, profile guided optimizations (PGO) provides an optimized Firefox build based on the way it internally works. So far it is only available for Windows. Linux should follow shortly and Mac OS X could also make it before final release.”

    Only Windows will have PGO. There wasn’t enough time before b5 for the other platforms and it’s not something to introduce between b5 and RC1, or RC1 and any RC2. Please update this text.

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  8. I guess here’s as good a place to ask as any (correct me if I’m wrong, please):

    I am an extensive user of (we’re talking 10’s of thousands of bookmarks), and really really want to use the bookmarks functionality from within Firefox. However, it only seems to find tags that have already sync’ed, and the bottom right corner always just says “Bookmark synching in progress…”

    Given my high usage and the apparent snail’s-pace synching, am I doomed to forever be dissatisfied with this one little (but critical) piece of functionality, or have other users run into this too and have a better suggestion?

  9. One of the most interesting features for us non-native English speakers is the site specific spell checking. The problem is I can’t find it. I have the en-US and the sv-SE dictionaries installed, but I can’t find the setting. I thought I would find it in the Page Info window, but nope. Is that feature dropped or am I stupid? 🙂

  10. Waiting for updates to a lot of my extensions now 🙁 Updated a bit too soon I guess. Bye StumbleUpon, bye TwitterFox 🙁

  11. Please… I was expecting that when I install RC1, the real player browser record plugin would work but it says “not compatible with firefox 3″ can someone knows… please if it didn’t work on firefox 3 then using firefox would be of no use for me…

  12. Is the “site specific preferences” mentioned at the top of Page 2 documented anywhere? Is it View Page Info that you’re talking about? I’m thinking it’s some other interface, because the items mentioned are not accessible there, though some other things are. Why wouldn’t they all be in the same place?

  13. I was able to install the betas as a separate version and keep FF2 and the fully functioning add-ons. The RC overwrote FF2. This left me without some handy add-ons. Easy enough to uninstall, reinstall FF2 and regain everything. I would guess this is by design.

  14. Most of the must have pluggins wont install in this new version, so i still using v2 only.

    Plz rectify this and i am much awaiting to upgrade.

    Long Live Mozilla.


    1. Same here Mahesh.

      Not giving up FireShot or Flashblock.

      To bad, because they worked in Foxfire 3 beta 5.

      Like the true Full Screen in 3 rc1 though.

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  18. “IN the Acid3 test Firefox 3 scores 71, behind Opera and WebKit (Safari engine) development releases which achieved both 100% a few weeks ago” – note that both Opera and WebKit presented *experimental* versions to pass Acid3. Opera is certainly not going to pass Acid3 in their next release (Opera 9.5), not sure about WebKit. So this is a pretty unfair comparison, Firefox 3 is way ahead any released browser (including Firefox 2).

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  24. First thanks percy for the new look of your site… it is now much cool…
    I want to talk about the TAB BUTTON – it would have been great if FF3 had tab button right at the TAB BAR… It could be easier and fast to open new tabs… like the opera browser has it… the beauty of firefox is tab browsing, how could mozilla didn’t think about this… clicking on tab button from the navigation bar is much confusing as it has other mostly used buttons there…
    Also whenever firefox crashes or the light is out, my all cache also gets deleted… it’s so frustrating in that case… I had hoped that FF3 would have session saving functionality like the opera browser has it built in… which allows to save the opened tabs and get them back at any time later… I had read at pcmag or other site that there is a firefox extension which allows us to save current tabs and get it back the same later… mozilla why didn’t they thought about this… otherwise Firefox is the best of all…

    kathmandu, Nepal

  25. I despise it Why is there not an OPTION to turnoff bookmarks in the address bar? In the blogs there is more than enough complaints about this; that there should be no reason that the option to turn this off should have not been in RC1. Mozilla ignoring this complaint? Is it too much to ask to have the damn OPTION TO TURN OFF THIS??? AGAIN MOZILLA WHY ARE YOU IGNORING THIS COMPLAINT?????

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  28. About the new location bar you say: “Once you get used to it, there is no turning back.”
    The sad thing is that there is no turning back if you like it or not. The search algorithm does not return any results I want. I’ve tried to get used to it since beta 3, but it simply does not work for me (any many others). This feature really should be configurable.
    I’m not switching to Firefox 3 until this is fixed.

  29. Firefox 3 RC 1 (build ID 2008051206) crashes on websites with AJAX and Flash, almost 2-3 times an hour. Visit, especially the Vote Chess games, and you won’t last long.

    Every crash report centers around an exception access violation in arena_dalloc_small. Anyone else getting this?

    1. Yep ………..same crash issues with Gmail and other Ajax sites. Not quite ready for prime time!!

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