Latest Firefox 3 beta offers exciting features
Firefox 3 is in testing, with the latest build, beta 4, released Monday. Mozilla is aiming for a final release of its flagship product before the end of the first quarter of 2008. Let's take a look at the changes coming down the pike.
You can grab a copy of the latest Firefox 3 beta from mozilla.com. Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X Universal Binaries are provided in more than 40 languages. The Linux version is a bzip2-compressed tar archive. You can unpack into any location on your system.
Before running the beta, you must close all running instances of earlier versions Firefox. You should read the release notes before running the program, as there are some known issues. Since this is prerelease software, it is also a good idea to make a backup copy of your Firefox profile by executing cp ~/.mozilla ~/.mozilla-backup. Doing so will preserve all of your bookmarks, passwords, and other personal settings, as well as any extensions and plugins installed locally.
When you launch the Firefox 3 beta with ./firefox, it will automatically check extensions and plugins for compatibility, and disable any that are incompatible with Firefox 3. Don't let Firefox 3 upgrade your incompatible extensions if you are planning on going back to Firefox 2 when you are done testing.
Security you can see
Security-related improvements feature prominently in Firefox 3. There are under-the-hood fixes, such as the disabling of extension updating over unencrypted connections, but many focus on better informing users of potential trouble.
For example, when visiting an HTTPS site in Firefox 2, the location bar changes color to indicate whether the connection is strongly or weakly encrypted. Firefox 3 takes this idea further, relocating certificate signature status from the bottom corner of the window up to the location bar itself. A verified site's favicon is highlighted in green, while next to it the site's certificate owner is displayed (making discrepancies between the site's certificate and URL prominent), and detailed certificate info is accessible in a drop-down menu.
Considerable work has gone into making that detailed certificate information more human-readable. It reports certificate verification with Larry, a "passport official" symbol common to international airports, visually distinguishing between the identity verification offered by certificates and encryption status signified by the padlock symbol. The wording is also a vast improvement over the confusing pop-up warnings of older releases.
At least two other pop-up warnings are also put out to pasture in Firefox 3: SSL error alerts and the "save password" prompt. SSL errors are displayed with an error page (as is done with 404 errors), and the save password prompt appears in an information bar that drops down from the top of the page (much like the pop-up blocker information bar in Firefox 2).
The new browser also takes advantage of outside services to bolster security. It triggers available antivirus software when downloading an executable file, and issues warnings when the user visits URLs known to be phishing or malware sites -- functionality provided by Google's malware site flagging. On Windows systems, Firefox respects the OS's "parental controls" settings, with which (for example) users can disable downloading of executables.