Enter the word “photo”, for example, and you’ll be presented with a dropdown list of all the sites you’ve previously visited with the word photo in the URL (such as www.photobox.co.uk) or with “photo” in the site’s title tag (for example, Facebook | Photos). The word you’re searching for is highlighted – either in the URL or the name of the site – in the dropdown list, making it easier to find the relevant site at a glance. It really is a remarkably swift way to find sites in your browsing history, and far easier than digging through the History sidebar. After we’d built up a decent browsing history, we found that the Awesome Bar quickly replaced Google as a way of finding sites we remembered visiting a couple of weeks back, but couldn’t remember the name of.
Firefox 3 doesn’t go as far as rival Opera 9.5, which actually indexes the content of every page you visit and lets you search for any word found on the page, but we still think it will dig out the vast majority of sites you’re looking for.
Tucked to the left of a site’s URL in the Awesome Bar is a small icon displaying the site’s logo. This isn’t mere window dressing. Clicking on it reveals a small pop-up, with what looks like a French traffic warden. Mozilla – in what’s now becoming a worrying trend of Disney-like characterisation – has dubbed him “Larry the security guy”.
Larry turns green when the site you’re visiting has a valid Extended Validation SSL certificate, blue when the site’s encrypted and remains grey when the site has no certificate. While the likes of online banks and Ebay will have an EV certificate, the vast majority of sites – including the respectable BBC, Google and even trusty old pcpro.co.uk – don’t, which means it’s hard to distinguish the good guys from the rogues.
However, lurking under Larry’s More Information button is a plethora of valuable details. From here you can discover whether the site is foisting cookies onto your system (take a look at Google if you want a sharp shock) and, handily, whether you’ve saved any passwords for use on the site. Click on the permissions tab, and it’s possible to block/unblock pop-ups and cookies from that site, which is particularly useful on favoured sites where the over-zealous pop-up blocker regularly prevents a form from loading, for example. The Media tab, meanwhile, provides a list and thumbnails of all the images and videos on the page, and allows you to save them at the click of a button.
Mozilla has also added a malware blacklist to the phishing protection introduced in Firefox 2. The blacklist is synchronised with Google’s StopBadware list and is stored locally, with Mozilla claiming it’s updated every 30 minutes. Firefox 3 blocks access to any malware/phishing site, which means there’s no chance of the site even running an SQL injection attack or other executable on your system, even if you were fooled into handing over your bank login details. There’s an option to ignore the warning and plough headlong into the site regardless if you feel it has been wrongly blocked.
The vast library of Firefox add-ons is one of the browser’s chief attractions, and Firefox 3 brings some minor refinements to the browser’s Add-ons Manager. There’s now a new option to Get Add-ons straight from the manager, simply by clicking Tools | Add-ons and selecting the relevant tab. Search for webmail, for example, and you’ll be presented with a selection of Extensions for handling Gmail, Yahoo accounts and so on, with those rated most highly by fellow Firefoxers appearing at the top of the list. This built-in search tool is also handy for finding our 15 favourite Firefox Extensions, which you’ll find opposite.