Firefox 3.0 has taken a step closer to release, with Mozilla releasing a beta version of the browser which includes improved search functionality, among other things.
Close to 75,000 developers have been testing early 'alpha' versions of Firefox 3.0 code for several months now, but this first beta release of the code should open up the software to a much larger group of testers, said Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla's vice president of engineering. "The move from alpha to beta typically means that we've hit a point of quality where we believe the browser is useable as a daily browser," he said. "For us, it's a step up in terms of getting closer toward the final release."
Schroepfer expects a second beta to follow by year's end followed by a final beta 3.0 update in early 2008. By the time the finished product is unveiled, sometime in 2008, the team hopes to have close to half a million users testing its software.
One of the big changes with Firefox 3.0 is an overhaul of the way the browser bookmarks and keeps track of browsing history. With this new feature, called Places, browsing history will now be stored in a database, meaning that it will be much easier for Firefox users to search for sites they've visited. "Because of the new Places infrastructure we're able to store a much larger component of your history," Schroepfer said.
And the browser will now be able to search what is being typed into the address bar to see if it's relevant to previous web visits. For example, someone who had recently visited a Web page entitled "Review of 2008 Toyota Prius," could type "Prius" into the address bar and would be directed to the review page.
Security has also taken a front seat with Firefox 3.0.
The browser is now integrated with Google's database of known malicious websites and will warn users before they visit sites that are considered to be dangerous.
And Firefox's download manager is now better integrated with antivirus software, making it easier to spot malicious files before they are placed on the desktop. The browser will no longer allow add-ons to be downloaded from insecure sites, mending a practice that could have serious security ramifications according to some.
Much of the hardest work has been under the hood, however. Firefox sports a new HTML rendering engine, called Gecko 1.9, that will make it perform better in the graphically rich Web 2.0 world, where developers are trying to find new ways of running software whether the PC is connected to the Internet or not. "You won't see those as a user right away," Schroepfer said. "But you'll see Web applications do more interesting things and run more quickly in Firefox over time."