Firefox 3? Not yet

With the early release of Mozilla Firefox 3 Release Candidate 1, the official version 3.0 can't be far away. If it's not going to change much from now until then, why not upgrade now? Peter Butler weighs the pros and cons and sticks with version 2.

Firefox 3 promotional logo

Will you join the Firefox 3 robot army? Have patience, young cyborg.

(Credit: Mozilla)

Mozilla surprised us a bit with an unexpected release of the first release candidate for Firefox 3 last weekend. It's a likely sign that the official release is nigh.

When will that be? You already know the answer: "When it's ready." My best guess is sometime in the late afternoon, either this month or next.

That said, Release Candidate 1 is going to be close enough to the final version of Firefox 3 that you won't notice any significant differences...until of course, you check your add-ons--extensions and themes. A large number might be incompatible with RC1.

However, let's cut the developers some slack. If an extension is compatible with Firefox 3 beta 5, it will be compatible with RC1 shortly. There's some frantic updating that's likely happening right now. However, if you like Tab Mix Plus a lot (which I do), you might be waiting a bit.

The lack of a few of your favorite extensions and likely all of your favorite themes doesn't mean you shouldn't upgrade to Firefox 3 right now, especially if you're a Web developer (duh), or if you regularly use Web-based Javascript applications such as Gmail frequently.

Firefox 3 extensions incompatible

Several of my favorite Firefox 2 extensions are not yet available for Firefox 3.

(Credit: CNET Networks/Mozilla)

Aside from the obvious factor of missing extensions, I've broken down a few of my own main personal pros and cons for updating to Firefox 3. You can see my own conclusions (and call me names if you want) at the end.

Pro: Speed

Firefox 3 seems to load and render pages faster than Firefox 2, not only on heavier sites such as Gmail and YouTube but on a lot of different Web sites. It makes sense--a new browser should be expected to take better advantage of more recent coding developments--and Mozilla would be in big trouble if it got slower, but it's nice to see some performance improvements, even if they are anecdotal (my browsing habits).

Of course, I'm sure that the smaller number of running extensions may play a large part as well. Firefox 3 also launched a second or two faster than Firefox 2 for me.

Con: Minimal memory gain

There are a lot of factors that go into how much memory a program uses, and it's easy to tweak the settings in both Firefox and Firefox 3, using the about:config screen to set memory cache and release memory when Firefox is minimized. The only difference here: Firefox 3 gives you a humorous "This will void your warranty" warning when you access the about:config screen.

The memory savings from Firefox 2 to Firefox 3 do seem to exist as promised, but they are nothing to write home about. Both used similar amounts when compared on similar Web sites, such as YouTube, CNET Download.com, CNET, CNN, and ESPN. The small memory savings is nice, but I was hoping for something a little leaner, especially with none of those extensions running.

Pro: Smarter address bar

Rafe Needleman took a look at Firefox 3's new "awesome bar" (sometimes called "AwesomeBar") in an interview with Mozilla last week, and it seems to indicate what I was guessing at last summer: the search box is redundant. Put all that functionality into one powerful address bar, simplify the interface, and make everyone happy, right?

Well, maybe it's not that easy. The search box isn't going anywhere, but the address bar itself has become a lot more powerful. Not only does it remember all of your previously visited pages for easy access, but it also uses your bookmarks to accurately predict where you might want to go. Groovy!

Con: Stability

In my own personal testing, Firefox 3 RC1 crashed a few times very unexpectedly, which is something I've taken for granted with Firefox 2, believe it or not. Firefox 2 may grind to a halt when processing a resource-intensive task, but I know that if I leave it alone for a few seconds, it will almost always come back. Firefox 3 slam-dunked me to the curb twice in the span of an afternoon.

The long and short of it

For me, once you get used to a certain interface, it's very hard to go backward. The All-in-One Sidebar and Tab Mix Plus extensions are essential to me, as well as a space-saving themes like Littlefox. Until that sort of functionality is replicated in add-ons that are compatible with Firefox 3, I can't see myself updating to Firefox 3 for my own personal browsing.

It sure was nice to speed through Gmail and YouTube for a while, though...

Have you tried out Firefox 3 Release Candidate 1? What do you think? I haven't had any problems running Firefox 2 and Firefox 3 on the same machine, but if you do, let me know about it. And if you've already upgraded to Firefox 3, tell me why.

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