Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Firefox 3 - Software Review

Firefox 3 was released today. It’s the moment us geeks have all been waiting for since the dawn of the Internet, or at least since the dawn of Firefox 2 and the inevitability that a faster, slicker, more awesome version was going to be released eventually. The level of expectations for this thing were huge, could it possibly live up to the hype?

The answer is: sort of. Now, this isn’t going to be an in-depth review of Firefox 3 and all of its claimed 15,000 improvements. No, I’ll save that stuff for all the other, “legitimate,” review sites. Instead I’m just going to run down a few things I’ve noticed in my short time with FF3, both good and bad.

The Good:

Speed! Whoa. This thing is fast. Seriously fast. Pages load fast, Javascript compiles fast, Flash movies respond better, it’s just fast.

Memory usage really has been improved. Right now as I type this I have both FF3 and IE7 opened up. I have 3 tabs open in each and IE7 is using about 30MB more memory. I started playing a Flash-based video in both and IE7 memory usage jumps to over 100MB over FF3. It’s not perfect in that it does occasionally begin to use too much memory requiring a restart but that is not to say that it isn’t leaps and bounds better than anything currently out there (at least for Windows.)

It looks a little bit more professional. Firefox 2 always had this “homemade” quality to it. It wasn’t bad but it just didn’t feel like it was on the same level as IE as far as design. Sure, you had your themes – which were great, but the base theme was a bit bare. The base theme is now catered to your OS and just has that certain something to make the user feel like they’re using a finely polished product.

The “awesome bar” or address bar is pretty cool. It remembers parts of URL’s and adapts to the user based on where they’ve been and what they’ve typed. Who am I kidding? I have no idea about how it actually works but it is spiffy.

Other features you find as you use it more and more. I haven’t stumbled upon too many of these yet but one which I did find which I love is that it saves your tabs. I’ve always wanted this feature. When you close FF3 it now asks you if you’d like it to save the tabs you currently have open for next time. To get this behavior with FF2 I would actually “end task” FF in program manager so that it would recover my tabs from the previous session. Now I can just close it and say “yes.” Sweet!

The Bad:

Weird rendering issues are present. I’ve been to a few pages where certain type shows up in strange hues and sometimes isn’t as crisp as it should and would be in Windows FF2/IE7. It’s almost as if its trying to anti-alias the text but failing.

It’s too fast? Uh, I know this sounds weird but I have noticed that with certain AJAX elements where they are coded to load as the page loads they will sometimes load before the content of the page loads itself and show up in the wrong place on the page. It sounds crazy but I’ve never seen it happen with certain sites in other browsers but with FF3 it happens. It’s rare but it happens.

I’m not sure if any of this stuff is just my unfortunate luck or inability to use FF3 but I have noticed a few things which don’t amuse me much at all. Aside from the things I mentioned above I’ve also noticed that some of my bookmarks didn’t make it from FF2. It’s a really random selection of bookmarks too, like maybe from a certain date forward. Not cool. Another weird one: when I click my bookmark for YouTube it takes me to the UK site. I definitely downloaded the US version of Firefox: my about window says “en-US.” I’ve also noticed some of my saved passwords are gone. It’s pretty random but those are definitely bugs that shouldn’t exist considering how long they’ve been tweaking this thing.


Overall, it’s been a good experience – so far. The speed alone would be enough for me to keep using it forever and ever. The glitches are annoying but I’ll get over most of them, except maybe the weird font rendering issue. Firefox is truly a great browser and anyone who wants to experience the Internet the way it was “meant” to be experienced should be using this latest iteration. Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do with IE8 but more than anything I wish they would somehow banish IE6 from existence first :)

Firefox 3

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