Get it while it’s hot….

Firefox 3.0, out now. Get it, it’s definitely worth it.

Oh, are you still here? Guess you need some incentive then. Well, let’s take a quick look at the new features.

Probably the most talked about feature in the new release is the “Awesome Bar.” Yeah, the name is kind of lame, but the functionality is quite cool. The new bar combines the old auto-complete history feature with your bookmarks. In short, when you start typing in the Address Bar, Firefox auto-completes based on history, bookmarks, and tags. A drop-down appears below the location bar, showing you the results that best match what you’re typing. The results include the name of the page, the address, and the tags you’ve assigned (if it’s a bookmark).

While I find this particular feature of the new Firefox to be the most helpful, many people do not. The reason I’ve heard cited for this hatred is that this forces the user into something new, breaking the “simplicity” of Firefox. And while I can agree, somewhat, with that, I don’t think it’s that big a deal. I do agree, however, that the developers should have included a switch to revert back to the old behavior. I did stumble upon a new extension and a few configuration options that can switch you back, though. The extension, called oldbar, modifies the presentation of the results so it resembles the old Firefox 2.0 results. The writer of the extension is quick to point out that the underlying algorithm is still the Firefox 3.0 version.

You can also check out these two configuration options in the about:config screen:

  • browser.urlbar.matchOnlyTyped (default: False)
  • browser.urlbar.maxRichResults (default: 12)

Setting the matchOnlyTyped option to True makes Firefox only display entries that have been previously typed. The maxRichResults option is a number that determines the maximum number of entries that can appear in the drop down. Unfortunately, there is no current way to revert back to the previous search algorithm. This has left a number of people quite upset.

Regardless, I do like the new “Awesome Bar,” though it did take a period of adjustment. One thing I never really liked was pouring through my bookmarks looking for something specific. Even though I meticulously labeled each one, placed it in a special folder, and synchronized them so they were the same on all of my machines, I always had a hard time finding what I needed. The new “Awesome Bar” allows me to search history and bookmarks simultaneously, helping me quickly find what I need.

And to make it even better, Firefox 3.0 adds support for tags. What is a tag, you ask? Well, it’s essentially a keyword you attach to a bookmark. Instead of filing bookmarks away in a tree of folders (which you can still do), you assign one or more tags to a bookmark. Using tags, you can quickly search your bookmarks for a specific theme, helping you find that elusive bookmarks quickly and efficiently. Gone are the days of trying to figure out which folder best matches a page you’re trying to bookmark, only to change your mind later on and desperately search for it in that other folder. Now, just add tags that describe it and file it away in any folder. Just recall one of the tags you used, and you’ll find that bookmark in no time. Of course, I still recommend using folders, for sanity’s sake.

Those are probably two of the most noticeable changes in the new Firefox. The rest is a little more subtle. For instance, speed has increased dramatically, both in rendering, and in JavaScript execution. Memory usage seems to be better as well, taking up much less memory than previous versions.

On the security side of things, Firefox 3 adds support for the new EV-SSL certificates, displaying the owner of the site in green, next to the favicon in the URL bar:

Firefox now tries to warn the user about potential virus and malware sites by checking them against the Google Safe Browsing blacklist. When you encounter a potentially harmful page, a warning message appears:

Similarly, if the page you are visiting appears to be a forgery, likely an attempt at phishing, you get this warning message:

Finally, the SSL error page is a little more clear, trying to explain why a particular page isn’t working. That error looks like this:

There are other security additions including add-on protection, anti-virus integration, parental controls on Windows Vista, and more. Overall, it appears they have put quite a lot of work into making Firefox 3.0 more secure.

There are other new features that you can read about here. Check them out, and then give Firefox 3.0 a shot. Download it, it’s worth it.

A new hairpiece for Mozilla?

Back in October I wrote about a new technology from Mozilla Labs called Prism.  Since then, the team at Mozilla has been working on some newer technology.

First up is something called Personas.  Personas is a neat little extension that lets you modify the Firefox theme on the fly.  You are presented with a small menu, accessible via an icon on the status bar.  From the menu, you can choose from a number of different “themes” that will change the design of the default Firefox theme.

Overall, personas is just a neat little extension with no real purpose other than breaking up the monotony.  You can set it to randomly select a persona, which will cause the persona to change for each instance of the browser.  More options are definitely needed, such as a custom list of personas to choose from, but it’s a decent start.

More interesting, however, is the second technology I’d like to present.  Dubbed Weave, this technology is a bit more on-par with what I’ve been looking forward to for years.  Weave presents the user with a way to record their individual user settings, store them on a remote server, and sync them up with any other installation of Firefox.  In fact, Weave aims to allow the user to sync their preferences with other third-party applications, such as social networks and browsers.

To be honest, I have no real interest whatsoever in social networks.  I avoid MySpace like the plague, and I haven’t bothered to look into Facebook at all.  My on-line collaboration, thus far, has been mostly through traditional means, Instant Message, E-Mail, and the Web.  In fact, I’m not sure any of my online activities fall into the so-called “Social” category.  So, my interest here lies merely in the distribution of my personal metadata between applications that I access.  I would love to be able to “log in” to any computer and immediately download my browser settings, bookmarks, and maybe even my browsing history.  Having all of that information in one central location that can be accessed whenever I need it is a wonderful thought.

I currently use the Bookmark Sync and Sort extension which allows me to upload my bookmarks to my own personal server and synchronize them with other installations of Firefox.  Other such extensions exist to allow you to sync with Google, Foxmarks, and more, but I prefer to have complete control over my data, rather than placing it on a third-party server.

Weave promises to be an open framework for metadata handling, or services integration.  The offer the following view of the process (click for larger image) :

In essence, you access your metadata via a web browser, phone, or some other third-party application.  That application, being Weave-aware, allows you to view and manipulate your metadata.  You can choose to make some of your data available to outside users, such as friends and family, or even make it completely open to the world.  At the same time, any new metadata you create is automatically synchronized with the central servers, updating it instantly wherever you access it.

Weave looks to be a pretty exciting project, one I plan on keeping an eye on.