First Impressions: Firefox 3 RC1

With the announcement that Firefox 3 had entered release candidate status, I finally decided to install it and check it all out.

Installation is pretty simple and for those who are already Firefox aficionados, there are only a few subtle, but powerful differences in this new edition of one of the best browsers out there.

One of the key differences in this latest release is FF's new look.  Mozilla made a concerted effort to make the browser feel integrated with whichever OS it is installed.  This means that FF on OS X looks like a native Carbon app.  FF on XP looks just as integrated as Internet Explorer.  FF on Ubuntu Linux feels like it was part of the overall desktop theme.  This is cool if your OS has a good theme going on.  I usually run the Windows Classic theme on Windows XP, and to be honest, FF looks like junk when compared to its FF 2 predecessor.  It actually inspired me to change to one of the other XP themes, just so it'd look OK.  Customization allows you to override that, of course, but at this point there aren't very many themes to download and install.

Another detail that they've enhanced from a functionality perspective has been the download manager.  You can do real stop and resume downloading, as well as perform searches against downloads.  Another cool feature is that the time remaining information has been integrated into the status bar of the main browser window so that you know the download progress without having to have the download window visible.

A more subtle improvement (that I particularly enjoy) is being able to resize the address and search bar.  As a software engineer, I end up doing searches on error messages that can get lengthy, so being able to expand and contract the search box to fit my query is a nice touch.

One noticeable difference is what has been termed 'The Keyhole'.  Most traditional navigation buttons like Back, Forward, navigation history, etc. share equal prominence on the toolbar.  In FF3, however, greater prominence has been given to the Back button, while the other nav buttons take a more diminutive role in navigation.  I don't know that I like/dislike the change, just that it's different.  Whenever you change something that users expect, you cause quite a bit of psychological dissonance that UI designers should take great care to avoid.  We'll see how this plays out.

So is it a keeper?  YES!  There will be some lag time between getting updated themes, extensions, et all, but that comes with the territory.  I can't wait until the final release comes out!

Posted on May 19
Written by Wayne Hartman