Firefox 3.5 Released, Detailed Feature Review.

Firefox 3.5Firefox 3.5 finally appears, after four beta versions and three release candidates, Firefox 3.5 has finally been released. The new version brings a private browsing mode, faster JavaScript performance, and support for emerging HTML 5 standards.Download the new version of Firefox for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux from

“So much is happening on the Web right now, it’s a great time for browsers. Firefox 3.5 brings together the most innovative Web technologies and delivers them in the most complete and powerful modern browser,” said John Lilly, chief executive of Mozilla, in a statement.

The browser also includes new technology that will allow users to tell sites their location, which will let sites deliver relevant information, for example, about nearby eateries and businesses. The features uses Google Location Services, which obtains your whereabouts using a database of WiFi access points and other known IP addresses.

3.5 is one of the most significant Firefox releases ever.

Firefox 3.5

Mozilla aims to “upgrade the Web” by improving the Firefox user experience and expanding the range of tools that are available to Web developers. Firefox 3.5 includes over 5,000 enhancements that span nearly every aspect of the browser’s functionality and behavior. Among the most compelling advancements in this release is support for the HTML 5 video element, which enables native video playback in the browser without requiring proprietary plugins such as Flash.

Mozilla was planning to adopt a more incremental development model and tentatively aimed to have a 3.1 release ready to ship in late 2008. As the roadmap increased in complexity and more sophisticated features began to land, they pushed the planned release date back into Q2 2009 and changed the target version number to 3.5. That version arrived this morning, after 1 year of intensive development. That really explains why we could expect a BIG product improvement this time.

3.5 also includes a lot of features that were originally planned for 3.0 but were deferred for various reasons.

Let’s walk through all the new Improvements you will see in Firefox 3.5 and what each of them could mean to you.

1. Privacy

Firefox 3.5 includes a new private browsing mode that allows users to traverse the Web without leaving behind a trail that can be recalled later in the browser’s history, cache, and cookies. This feature is becoming nearly ubiquitous in mainstream browsers as it is already included in Safari, Chrome, and Internet Explorer 8. Mozilla’s implementation is reasonably reliable and appears comparable to its competitors.

When the user enables private browsing mode from the browser’s Tools menu, the browser will end the current session and start in private browsing mode. While it is in this mode, the browser will function normally but the data that it tracks will not persist. When the private browsing mode is disabled, the user’s previous session will be reloaded and there will be no sign of the activity that transpired during private browsing. This feature is typically referred to as pr0n mode, but Mozilla points out that it has broader uses and can also function well as a “guest” mode in situations where users allow their friends to make use of their browser.

There are also several other features that give the user more control over privacy, such as support for clearing recent history and a “Forget This Site” capability that allow users to purge history and data pertaining to specific websites.

2. User interface improvements

Mozilla was planning a few highly ambitious user interface changes for this release, but they were discarded as development progressed. But in actual it didn’t happen due to time-lines.

Mozilla developer/Architect Atul Varma wrote a blog entry last year in which he described some of the usability failings of the experimental tab switcher and acknowledged that it was harder to use in many cases. It’s possible that we could see some of the underlying concepts resurrected in future releases with a better approach. The plans for major tab changes were dropped, but the new release does include a few subtle tab improvements.

By default, the browser will now display the tab bar when there is only one tab. This change will improve the discoverability of tabbed browsing and will also be welcomed by users who find it jarring when the tab bar pops into view after the addition of a second tab. Another subtle change is the inclusion of a button in the tab bar that can be used to create a new tab.

Support for moving tabs between windows is better in this release. In Firefox 3.0, dragging a tab from one window to another would cause the associated page to reload itself upon arrival in the new window. In Firefox 3.5, you can now drag tabs between windows without disrupting page state or suffering a forced refresh. The 3.5 release also adds support for snapping tabs out of the browser to create a new window. Dragged tabs are accompanied by a translucent page thumbnail that makes it easier for those of us with short attention spans to remember exactly what they are dragging.

Session management is improved in 3.5, too. The 3.0 release introduced support for reopening closed tabs. The developers have expanded on that in 3.5 by adding the ability to reopen a closed window. Crash recovery is also handled better now. When the browser is restarted after a crash, the user will be presented with a session restore screen that will show them the contents of their session and allow them to select which tabs should be restored. Earlier, It used to be common to lose the windows with unexpected crashes, Result, User panics. Now its all fixed.

3. Performance Boost

Now this is the key area where market value increases. Firefox 3.5 brings a significant improvement to JavaScript performance. The browser was fitted with a new JavaScript engine called TraceMonkey that uses an innovative optimization technique to deliver significantly faster execution speed.

It leverages Adobe’s nanojit, the just-in-time (JIT) compiler and native code generator that Adobe built for Flash’s ActionScript virtual machine and released as open source in 2006.

Tracing optimization, which was originally demonstrated by researchers on top of the Lua runtime, has been found to be remarkably effective for boosting performance of dynamic programming languages. The tracing system analyzes the path of execution at runtime and generates compiled code that can be used when that path is reached again. This makes it possible to flatten loops and nested method calls into a linear stream of instructions that will be easier to accelerate with more conventional optimization methods.

The TraceMonkey engine makes JavaScript noticeably faster in Firefox 3.5, enabling developers to leverage client-side scripting for computationally intensive tasks. Mozilla believes that this will open the door for creating a whole new class of sophisticated Web applications that will be able to compete with desktop applications.

High-performance JavaScript engines that are capable of achieving similar or better execution speed are already being used in Safari and Chrome.

4. New standard support: HTML 5, Video

Mozilla is aiming to empower Web developers and expand the scope of what can be accomplished with native Web technologies by adopting emerging standards. The HTML 5 specification is still in the draft process and has not yet been fully ratified by W3C, but some of its most significant features are already being widely adopted by browser vendors. We had earlier articulated what exactly is HTML 5 and FAQ. Also we compared it with Flash.

The most noteworthy HTML 5 feature to arrive in Firefox 3.5 is support for the video element, an HTML tag that allows videos to be embedded in Web pages without requiring proprietary plugins. This is highly advantageous because it will make it possible for video content to be seamlessly manipulated through the Document Object Model (DOM) via JavaScript and CSS. It breaks down the barriers between video and the rest of the page, making multimedia a first-class citizen on the Web.

It was originally hoped, way back in 2007, that the feature would be included in Firefox 3, but it did not mature quickly enough and was pushed back to Firefox 3.5. The implementation is relatively good and performance is mostly acceptable.

Firefox 3.5 ships with built-in Ogg Theora and Vorbis video codecs, which will enable video in those formats to play without requiring any external software components.

In order to reduce the risk of fragmenting the Web and disenfranchising some users, Mozilla has refrained from supporting other video formats.

Mozilla developers have created some impressive demos to showcase what can be achieved by using the browser’s new high-performance JavaScript engine to programmatically manipulate video content. One of my favorites, which was first shown at the Southern California Linux Expo, uses JavaScript to detect and highlight motion in a video as it is playing. A similar demo will detect two moving light sources in a video and will render another rotating video between them.

5. Developer features and Tools

In addition to support for the HTML 5 video element, Firefox 3.5 has many other features that will be appreciated by Web developers. The previously mentioned motion detection demo takes advantage of the new JavaScript worker threads capability, which facilitates concurrency in JavaScript by allowing operations to be performed in background threads.

The rendering engine has gained support for natively drawing CSS drop shadows behind text and boxes. Another nice rendering engine enhancement is support for downloadable fonts, making it possible to display text content with fonts that the user doesn’t already have installed on their computer. CSS transforms are supported too, making it possible to rotate and skew page elements. This feature has been used experimentally to simulate isometric 3D rendering. In the following image, a playable video and selectable text are rendered on page elements that are skewed with CSS transforms to look like cube planes:

A new geolocation API has been introduced to support development of location-aware Web application development. This feature was initially introduced last year as an extension and is now a built-in part of the browser. When the geolocation API is used, the browser will prompt the user and ask permission to convey information about the user’s location to the Web application. If the user agrees, the Web application can use the coordinates of the user to present content that is relevant to the region or to perform specialized action based on the user’s position. This feature is supported by several backends. If a hardware GPS device is not available, it will attempt to detect nearby WiFi access points and match those against a location using a database that is maintained by Google. In cases where that is not possible, it will try to guess the user’s location based on their IP address.


The Firefox 3.5 release builds on the browser’s existing strengths to offer a high-quality user experience with a lot of rich new functionality. The addition of HTML 5 video, the faster JavaScript engine, and the new developer-oriented rendering features will boost innovation on the Web and help free users and developers from proprietary-plugin prison. The new privacy, session management, and user interface features will help Firefox stay competitive as its challengers gain greater momentum. In general, this is a great time for the Web.

source: Arstech, firefox

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