Firefox 3 – making the web a little better

I’ve been using Firefox 3 betas for a few months now, through the really rough times when bookmarking was totally broken, up until the present day (Firefox 3.0b4 – click for a short review). It’s really been an impressive transformation, and I think that it will mark a very nice evolution in the web. It’s faster, uses less memory, more standards complaint, and has some cool features. All and all, I think Firefox is giving the proprietary RIA technologies (Sliverlight, Flash, etc) a run for their (very large amounts of) money.

The first thing someone who installs Firefox 3 will notice is the performance. You can browse around and things feel faster. Page transitions are quicker, clicking is more responsive, scripts run faster (the Javascript engine is now faster than those in IE, Safari, and Opera!) and after a lot of browsing around, the browser feels just as snappy as when you first opened it. I’m not saying that Firefox 2 was that bad – it’s just that 3 is better. Stuart Parmenter, a Firefox developer, has written about these improvements on his blog. The biggest effect from this will be a blow against the Flash/Silverlight systems, for performance is one argument for those systems over standards based AJAX applications. With Firefox 3, browsers become faster, reducing the performance argument.

The second thing is something a user probably won’t immediately notice, but a developer certainly will: Firefox 3 is more standards compliant. 3 passes Acid2, and introduces closer compliance to the CSS, Javascript, and HTML standards. I can just hear web developers (including the XDs at Molecular) rejoicing about getting that much closer to being able to make a site, and knowing that it will work the same in all compliant browsers – and having more browsers be more compliant. Remember when all sites had badges that said “This site works in IE only?” We’re getting farther and farther from those days.

Standards compliance is also critical in the open standards model of the browser in its battle with the proprietary model of Flash and Silverlight. One of the largest benefits touted for Flash/Silverlight is that you write your application once, and it will run anywhere where the Flash/Silverlight VM will run exactly the same way. Essentially, they have created their runtimes as the one and only “standards” – browsers have a much bigger challenge. But imagine if there had never been standards (such as if IE has truly won the browser war, and closed the HTML, CSS, and Javascript specs and replaced them with something like Silverlight). No web developers could have reverse engineered existing sites to figure out how they work and how to improve them. The Web 2.0 revolution wouldn’t have happened – for that matter, the .com boom would have never happened. That’s why I’m so excited about this supposedly boring topic of standards compliance!

The coolest new feature (IMHO) of Firefox 3 is the so called “Awesome Bar” – the location bar got hooked up with baseball’s steroids dealers. The “Awesome Bar” is “the much improved location bar autocomplete that unlike Firefox 2 which only looked for web addresses in my history, this one looks on visited and bookmarked page titles and tags along with web addresses.” For example, oftentimes I think to myself, “a little while ago I saw a great page about performance… but I can’t remember the URL. How do I find it?” With the new location bar, I simply type “performance” and relevant results show up, and I can click on the one I want. I can’t tell you how many times this has helped me find things that I thought were long since lost to the vastness of the Web.

One final notable thing I’d like to comment on is the native look and feel improvements made in this version. Previously, Firefox had it’s own look and feel – it used it’s own colors and icons. Starting in 3, Firefox will look as close to a regular application as possible, so it will feel a lot more familiar, and feel much easier to learn, on Windows (both XP and Vista), Mac, and Linux. New users should feel like they are already familiar with the application, because it feels just like every other application, and power users will appreciate how it seamlessly blends with their environment.

Is Firefox 3 revolutionary? No. But it is evolutionary. By being faster, more standards compliant, and introducing some cool new features, Firefox 3 improves the user experience of probably the world’s most common computer based activity. Start the countdown to the release!

CC BY-SA 4.0 Firefox 3 – making the web a little better by Craig Andrews is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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