Mozilla's Firefox 3 beta: Improved but imperfect
A few months later than had been planned, Mozilla released on Monday night the first beta version of an overhauled Firefox, the widely used open-source Web browser.
Firefox 3 beta 1 includes a number of significant features that Mozilla said should improve security, ease of use, rendering of Web pages, and location of previously visited Web pages. And for the new era of rich Internet applications, the browser can run Web-based applications even when the computer is disconnected from a network.
Although Microsoft's Internet Explorer remains the dominant Web browser, the open-source rival has achieved a critical mass of users--Firefox has been downloaded more than 400 million times--and it's now common for designers to make sure their Web pages work with the browser. Even Microsoft has bowed to the reality, testing its Live.com Web sites with Firefox and helping with technical issues such as playing Windows Media files from Web pages.
According to the release notes, the core Gecko rendering engine--the component that interprets Web page instructions and draws text and graphics on your screen--has seen major changes in the upgrade to the new version 1.9 used in Firefox 3.
"Gecko 1.9 includes some major re-architecting for performance, stability, correctness, and code simplification and sustainability," the notes said. Those changes "put foundations in place for major performance tuning which have resulted in speed increases in beta 1, and will show further gains in future beta releases."
The Firefox 3 beta had been due to arrive in July, and there's no word yet on when the software will come out of beta. "The final version of Firefox 3 will be released when we qualify the product as fully ready for our users," the release notes said--a polite way of saying it'll be ready when it's ready.