PRODUCT REVIEW

Firefox 3: Good Browsers Come to Those Who Wait

Tuesday was D-Day for Mozilla with the scheduled launch of the third version of Firefox, its open source Web browser. The company had billed the day as “Download Day” and aimed its sights on setting a Guinness World Record for the most downloads of an application in a 24-hour period.

Over the weekend, I dutifully I pledged to download the new browser, and today I anxiously checked the site over and over and over to see if the download was ready.

Finally, at 1 p.m. EST, the hour arrived … but still no luck. Ominously, the download site seemed to have crashed. Indeed, the site had been overwhelmed with the demand, according to blog posts from Mozilla staffers Melissa Shapiro and Mike Schroepfer. As Shapiro put it, Mozilla’s “servers are currently feeling the burn.” However, she assured users that the servers “should be back to normal shortly.”

Back to normal came at exactly 2:23 p.m., when the e-mail I had been waiting for arrived with a link and instructions for getting the new browser. Wasting no time, I joined the 14,000 other people downloading Firefox each minute and soon had the browser up and running.

Later in the day, activity appear to be subsiding — at about 4:30 p.m. here on the East Coast, that number was down to about 8,000 downloads per minute. Nevertheless, according to Nina Beniash, a Mozilla spokesperson, that puts Mozilla “on track to clear 5 million to 7 million downloads on the first day.”

Worth the Wait

After years of using the often sluggish Internet Explorer from Microsoft, Mozilla can now count me as a true convert. The performance of Firefox 3 left IE 7 in the dust, and that was with just one tab open on each browser. Expanding the number to five made no changes in Firefox’s performance, but IE 7 was a bit slower. A zippier surfing experience was one of the key changes Mozilla had promised for Firefox 3 and the developers’ hard work and diligence paid off.

One feature that stood out was the “undo close tab,” available with a right-click on any tab. As a multi-tabber, more than once I have mistakenly shut down a tab in IE 7. This new Firefox feature saves users a couple minutes of backtracking to returning to a specific page without having to go into the Web browser’s history hoping to recognize the URL (Uniform Resource Locator).

Thumbs Up

The Awesome bar, also new, is pretty awesome — to put it simply. Type in a site that has been archived in your Firefox 3 library, and it goes straight to the site. If you have not been there, the browser returns a list of search results based on what it has “learned” about that user. Results improve as the browser is used, and after a few false starts, finding tech sites and information on Firefox 3 was remarkably easy.

Bookmarking in Firefox 3 works much the same as it does in most other browsers, but now users can tag bookmarks, adding details that allow you to find bookmarks by typing the tag in the browser. Adding keywords to the Library also simplifies the process of getting to favorite sites. Just like a tag, all you have to do is type the keyword into the address bar and up pops the associated Web site.

From what I have seen thus far, Mozilla Firefox 3 gets a definite thumbs up.

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