Firefox 3.6 Is Out Now

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One billion Firefox downloadsMozilla has finally released Firefox 3.6. You may have already been offered the update; if not, select Help > Check for Updates… and follow the wizard.

Is it safe to upgrade?

The main problem is add-ons compatibility. Mozilla has been working with developers for several months to ensure add-ons are compatible and most of the popular extensions already work.

However, you may encounter add-ons which fail. Fortunately, the improved upgrade process will warn you when add-ons are incompatible and offer to abort the installation or disable the add-on until a new version is released.

What’s new for users?…

The first improvement you’ll notice is speed. Firefox 3.6 starts noticeably faster, performance has been improved, memory usage has been reduced, and the browser feels more responsive. Google Chrome users may still mock, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Firefox personas are lightweight themes which can be applied without restarting the browser. In essence, personas are a couple of images applied behind the browser controls (similar Chrome’s theming). Personally, I think they’re a frivolous gimmick but I’m sure many users will love them.

Finally, stability should improve thanks to Component Directory Lockdown. It prevents third-party developers sneaking extensions into the browser which can’t be uninstalled … supposedly for “your” benefit.

…and developers?

We have lots of new toys to play with. The more interesting features include:

  • CSS now offers gradients, multiple backgrounds, and scalable images.
  • The new Web Open Font Format (WOFF) is supported.
  • Open native video can be displayed full screen. Poster frames are also supported (an image which represents the video until it’s played).
  • There are further facilities for selecting and handling files, such as drag and drop from your desktop to the browser.
  • An async=”true” attribute can be added to JavaScript script tags to indicate that code can be loaded and executed asynchronously.
  • An orientation event is available to detect when a device such as a mobile phone has been rotated. This can be used to switch a page from portrait to landscape view and vice versa.
  • The prototype property of JavaScript function instances are no longer enumerable. I need to test this further, but it could prevent many of the issues associated with scripts extending the functionality of native objects.
  • TraceMonkey, Firefox’s JavaScript engine, is faster.

These are all great additions, but be aware that many will only work in Firefox and could be ignored or throw errors in other browsers.

Overall, Firefox 3.6 is a great browser. If you’re a Firefox user, there’s little reason not to upgrade. The speed improvements may also bring a few disgruntled users back to the Mozilla fold.

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Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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