Test Center review: Firefox 3 comes out sizzling
After an eight-month beta phase, Firefox's major update scores big with unprecedented ease, snappier performance, and sensible security featuresFollow @pvenezia
If you browse to an SSL-protected site with a valid certificate, the address bar notes the verified owner of the certificate in a green highlight, giving immediate feedback on the validity of the site. If the site's SSL certificate isn't valid, Firefox 3 presents a method of either quickly navigating away from the site or an option to pull down the certificate and continue to the site. For those of us who use self-signed certificates, this is an extremely useful feature.
On Windows, Firefox 3 now integrates with Vista's parental controls to prevent downloads and so on in accordance to the system-wide settings. Firefox 3 can also integrate with some anti-virus tools to initiate scans when downloading executable files.
On a smaller scale, Firefox 3 has improved add-on management. It will detect outdated add-ons and offer to update them if possible. Add-ons that don't provide updates securely are disabled.
All told, these measures seem to effectively prevent novice or general users from hurting themselves while sacrificing very little for the power user -- a goal that's typically all but impossible.
Firefox 3 has broken new ground in browser usability. The address bar has taken on a life of its own. Going far beyond address-matching as you type, Firefox 3 also matches your entered URLs against keywords within the title or tags of the page. It sorts by frequency and recency, and tunes itself as you use it. I've found that it gets the right page or link for me just about every time.
The combination of the smart address bar and the new page-tagging feature for bookmarks can make finding pages you've visited incredibly simple. Bookmarks are now organized in a database, not in a flat file, and thus are easier to manage and search. Smart bookmark folders can be created to automatically arrange bookmarks meeting certain criteria based on tags and other information. All of these features are impressively handy no matter what I seem to be doing with the browser.
On platforms other than Windows, Firefox 3 has made a great effort to integrate better with the host OS. Firefox 2 on the Mac platform, for instance, always had the feel of a foreign app. It functioned well enough, but it didn't share the OS X look and feel. It does now, and it even supports OS X Widgets and Growl. On Linux, Firefox 3 uses the native GTK theme running on the system to provide a better visual fit.
As with Firefox 2, the customizable Search toolbar is right at home, offering any number of existing search engines from Google and Yahoo to Wikipedia, YouTube, and eBay.
As far as add-ons go, it might take a little while for all of your favorite accessories to come up to speed with Firefox 3, but I've had few problems in that area. In fact, Firefox 3 has led me to use some add-ons that I probably never would have discovered, all due to the Recommended page in the add-on manager.