capsule review

Firefox 3 Web Browser

At a Glance
  • Mozilla Firefox 3

    PCWorld Rating

    A top-notch Web browser.

Firefox 3 (download available here) probably won't wow you--at least not right away. Upgrade from version 2 of the browser, and you may at first forget you even made the change. But keep using it, and you'll realize how much more this update has to offer.

The latest version of the popular open-source browser looks much the same as its predecessor. The only visual clues that something's different with version 3.0: The back and forward buttons are now pushed together, and a little star has been added to the the location bar. Click that star, and you'll add the page you're viewing as an unfiled bookmark. Click it again, and you can choose a particular folder, add a description, or select tags--all of which are stored in a new, behind-the-scenes database.

You can search the database, along with all of your browsing history, by simply typing a keyword (instead of a URL) into the location bar. The search checks page titles, tags, and addresses. This improvement may sound like a small addition, but in practice it's a big feature. Instead of hunting through your ever-growing list of bookmarks, or trying to remember how to get to that great site you looked at last week, you can type a word into the location bar and find what you're looking for.

As much as I liked it, the new bookmarks search still has room for improvement. You can't see unfiled bookmarks in the normal bookmarks drop-down list (you have to go to Organize Bookmarks to find them)--a huge detriment if you don't take the time to categorize your bookmark at the time when you create it. And you can add tags to only one bookmark at a time.


Firefox 3's interface has a handful of other, more subtle changes as well. The download manager can now resume halted downloads after you've restarted the browser or your network connection. A nifty zoom menu option lets you resize the entire page or just the text on the page. And a new password saver lets you wait until after you've successfully logged in to decide whether to save your credentials.


On the security front, Firefox 3 will now block sites known to spread malware, based on a Google blacklist, along with blocking phishing sites. It also supports
Extended Validation certificates, so if you view a site that uses one to verify the site owner's identity, you'll know it: A large green button with the company's name will appear on the left side of the location bar.

Mozilla says that even with these new features, the new Firefox should use less memory because of memory leak cleanups and other programming improvements. And it uses less memory than its primary competitor, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7. In my informal test with four open pages--CNN.com, PCWorld.com, Icanhascheezburger.com, and Yahoo mail--Firefox 3 used about 85MB of memory, compared with 106MB for IE 7.

Those tests didn't include add-ons, but if you use Firefox, you know that the browser's ability to support a multitude of add-ons is what distinguishes it from the competition. Most, though not all, of the must-have extensions--such as Adblock Plus, Foxmarks, and SiteAdvisor--already work with version 3. Add-on fans will appreciate the refreshed add-on manager, which makes it easier to keep track of them.

If you already use Firefox, then no doubt about it, you'll want this upgrade. If you've held back so far, I'd give the new browser a try. This version might just persuade you to make the switch.

--Erik Larkin

At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    A top-notch Web browser.

    Pros

    • Offers better performance
    • Innovative bookmark and history searching

    Cons

    • Unfiled bookmarks hidden from view
    • Can't add tags to multiple bookmarks
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