The Night Owl’s Firefox 3.0 First Look

June 17th, 2008

You know, I sometimes think most everyone has gone crazy when we calculate browser speeds in fractions of a second and then argue which application is faster. So on one hand, Safari 3.1 is faster than Firefox 2, but Firefox 3 might have taken the edge all over again.

But wait, folks, because Safari 4 is just around the corner, and it will set new performance records, or at least that’s what the rumor sites claim.

What’s more, Apple has gotten lambasted by Mozilla and some elements of the tech press for its overly aggressive scheme to make Windows users download Safari. In case you haven’t used Windows lately, the download offer comes in the Software Update application, which periodically appears if your XP or Vista installation includes QuickTime and/or iTunes and a new version is available. Only thing is that Safari is already checked, with the assumption that most people will simply take the download.

No, I’m not getting into the argument about whether Safari is less safe than the other browsers because it doesn’t have phishing protection built-in. Anyone who just avoids clicking links in suspicious email messages that purport to come from one of your financial institutions (and I suppose some of you are lucky to have more than one) shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Tuesday, however, was Mozilla’s day to shine, hoping to enter the Guinness Book of World Records with the largest number of file downloads in a single day. I wish them luck, and I can assure you that my download was part of that number, although getting to Mozilla’s site during the early hours was a chore, since it was so overloaded.

In the end, in fact, over a million copies were downloaded during the first four hours, despite chronic server overload issues.

To be sure, Firefox 3 has one huge advantage over its predecessor, and that’s a look and feel that is supposedly more native to the various platforms it supports. So the Mac version is, more or less, more Mac-like, and the Windows version adapts to the Windows conventions, such as they are, more precisely.

On the Mac, for example, Mozilla boasts that: “the new Firefox theme makes toolbars, icons, and other user interface elements look like a native OS X application. Firefox also uses OS X widgets and supports Growl for notifications of completed downloads and available updates. A combined back and forward control make it even easier to move between Web pages.”

Unfortunately, Mozilla’s efforts on the Mac, while mostly successful, miss the boat in handling Print dialogs. It doesn’t support the standard Leopard motif, which includes a Preview feature, and combines the functions of Page Setup in a single dialog. That’s unfortunate.

Worse, when you print a page in Firefox, there’s no progress dialog to indicate pages are being passed off to the printer. You don’t know you’re successful until your printer icon pops up in the Dock. That, too, is unfortunate.

However, Firefox’s new imaging routines do manage to handle most sites with greater fidelity, and I didn’t run into the spate of blank pages that afflicted previous editions. I realize this improved printing is not listed among the “must have” features, but everyone has their own priorities, and that was one of mine.

The other new features emphasize security and ease-of-use. I am particularly pleased with the enhanced auto complete feature, which delivers a large drop-down menu listing your choices in clear, readable text. Nice.

Overall, Firefox 3 launches a whole lot quicker than prior versions, and is snappier in every usability respect. Pages come up quickly, switching pages back and forth seems almost instantaneous and it comes across as rock stable — or as stable as any browser can be considering the complicated tasks they’re called upon to perform.

In the past, Firefox has been a notorious RAM hog, with memory use sharply increasing over the course of a typical session. I used the marvelous iStat Pro widget to keep tabs over how Firefox 3 was consuming memory and didn’t find anything to complain about.

In the scheme of things, does all this really matter? You see, just about any recent browser available for your Mac can handle most mundane chores without trouble. You should be able to visit all or most of the sites you frequent, including the ones on which you handle commerce. If a site doesn’t work in one browser, you use another, back and forth.

Thus, my regular routine does include both Firefox and Safari. And both now run pretty much the same on both the Mac and Windows platforms, and Firefox also has a Linux version.

But if you’re not a power user, will any of the new features make all that much of a difference? The answer is probably no. In saying that, though, installing Firefox 3 on your Mac is a simple drag and drop affair. Just make sure you quit the previous version first, and replace it. When you launch the new version, it’ll pick up all your settings, including your bookmarks.

And for the Windows users in our audience (and there are many, by the way): Firefox 3 is a wonderful way to continue to strike a blow against Microsoft’s endless mediocrity. The new version offers more than enough meat and potatoes to keep you happy, that’s for sure.

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10 Responses to “The Night Owl’s Firefox 3.0 First Look”

  1. Dana Sutton says:

    One humble (but to me important) detail is that this is the first version of Firefox that displays Unicode fonts and CSS correctly. Seeing this, I got enthusiastic. But my enthusiasm rapidly cooled off when I found that there doesn’t seem to be any easy and obvious way to import bookmarks from other browsers (in my case Safari). Or am I missing a trick?

  2. swissfondue says:

    @Dana The dialogue to import Safari bookmarks into FF3 isn’t intuitive. Go to “File” in the menu and then select “import”.

  3. Kula bácsi says:

    Safari is also a RAM hog: I used to restart it when it’s using 450-500MB memory.

  4. Dana Sutton says:

    Thanks, swissfondue. For some strange reason I can’t begin to explain, I was hunting around in the Bookmarks menu!

  5. Kent says:

    Firefox 3.0 does not display photo webpages/albums created on
    iWeb 2.03 and posted on

  6. Wayne says:

    I’ve used Firefox 2 once in a while, but I’ve been a pretty dedicated Safari user. But I decided to download Firefox 3, and as I checked things out, I ran into the FireGestures plugin. I downloaded it and it’s the first time in a long time that a piece of software actually made me laugh in wonder. I’m beginning to accidentally try strokes in other applications.

    Maybe stroke applications exist elsewhere, but I first discovered it in Firefox 3 and I love it.

  7. Terrin says:

    Firefox 3 is a very nice update to what I viewed as an unusable on the Mac Firefox 2. There are lots of nice refinements, and the browser is fast. The one big thing I hated about Firefox was you couldn’t view inline PDFs. I believe this has been fixed in the final release of Firefox 3. If so, I would consider using Firefox especially since Safari on my Mac is unreliable when it comes to remembering and adding usernames and passwords to the keychain (often Firefox will remember these things when Safari will not).

    Also, I think it is worth noting that Apple revised the way it distributes Safari on Windows and I don’t think it works the same now as APple had been doing it. That is probably worth investigating and putting in your story (even though I didn’t think the original way was controversial in any way or form).

  8. The only change on the part of Apple’s download policy for Safari was to put it in a separate category, as “New” software, but it’s still checked by default. Call it a “minor” concession.


  9. Terrin says:

    I thought the issue was really a non-issue to begin with. It isn’t like people are going to use Safari if Apple somehow gets them to download it without the users knowing what they are doing. Moreover, if a software developer who is providing me free software that I like has more available free software, I want to be made aware of it.

    If the concern, however, was Apple was supposedly being sneaky by placing Safari along with iTunes updates, labeling Safari as new software seems to be a fair concession and hardly can be called sneaky anymore. It isn’t like the feature can’t be disabled.

    I will also add that after using Firefox and Safari for the last few days, I still find Safari to be a bit more responsive on a Mac. Still, Firefox is finally a good competitor to Safari on the Mac.


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