Get your hands on Firefox 3 beta 4 | The Download Blog - CNET Download.com

Get your hands on Firefox 3 beta 4

Claiming a massive number of fixes, Mozilla has released Firefox 3 beta 4. This version is more stable than previous FF3 betas, but it also showcases some of the more interesting new features that we'd been promised, but until now hadn't yet arrived.

Claiming a massive number of fixes, Mozilla has released Firefox 3 beta 4 (download for Windows and Mac). This version is more stable than previous FF3 betas, but it also showcases some of the more interesting new features that we'd been promised, but until now hadn't yet arrived.

Of the more than 900 changes and fixes, four of the most useful are the add-on finder, the full-page zoom, the one-click site info, and greater cross-platform integration. Extensions are handled the same way as in FF2: users can click on an XPI and it will automatically be saved to Firefox's add-ons folder. Now, though, you can search for add-ons and get your search results within the add-on window. You can also search for and add recommended add-ons. Peter Butler has taken a longer look at the changes Firefox 3 has wrought on some of his favorite extensions.

Upcoming versions of Firefox support searching for plug-ins from the Add-on box.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

Although the new features installed plug-ins without a hitch, the discovery feature had some difficulty recognizing recommended Firefox 3-compatible add-ons that weren't installed.

The one-click site info finally takes the charming but useless favicon and turns it into something worthwhile. Clicking on it in FF3 beta 4 provides site information such as the Web site owner, their location, and whether the connection to the site is encrypted or not. Favicons for Web sites like PayPal that use Extended Validation SSL will turn green. Non-verified sites will indicate only that the site status is unknown.

The full-page zoom is a useful tweak to an old feature. Although you've been able to zoom in or out on text in Firefox 2, this new feature allows for entire pages--including graphics--to be enlarged or shrunk at constant proportions. It's a good improvement, although I'd also like to see a "quick restart" button standard on the Toolbar. They both strike me as being about as equally popular.

The cross-platform integration speaks to Firefox's desire for broad appeal: improvements have been made to Firefox iterations running on Windows Vista, as well as Linux and Mac platforms. The Vista improvements take advantage of Vista widgets in the browser and Web forms. The Mac changes are largely cosmetic, with a new OS X theme designed to make FF look like a native app, as well as support for OS X widgets and Growl notifications. The Linux changes are cosmetic as well, utilizing the native GTK theme.

The location bar favicon becomes useful by revealing site security and other info in Firefox 3 beta 4.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

Another well-done change is the revamp of the auto-completion feature in the location bar. In Firefox 3, when you start typing a URL the auto-complete will scan your bookmarks for suggestions as well as recently visited sites, and you also get the site title along with the suggested URL. Site suggestions that come from your bookmarks are marked by yellow stars.

Revamps of the way that Firefox handles JavaScript and memory cycles should lead to even faster performance than previous beta versions of FF3, but honestly it was a little hard to eyeball that. Although Firefox 3's features are a major improvement to the wildly popular browser, faster response times in a Web-intensive site like Gmail make me hopeful that the engine work being done will have a big-time payoff.

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