Mozilla Firefox 3 review

After what seems like an ever-lasting cycle of beta-releases bug-fixes and devolpement cycles, the long-awaited release of Firefox 3 is, at last, official.

But has the popular alternative to Internet Explorer maintained its lead at the head of the browser pack? On the face of it, it doesn’t look as if much as altered. Indeed, you’d be hard pressed to spot the difference between Firefox 2 and 3.

Beneath the surface, however, there are several new or revamped features that make the newcomer a far more powerful web browser.

Better bookmarks

Heavy surfers will particularly appreciate the overhaul of Firefox’s bookmarking system. Adding a bookmark is now as simple as clicking the empty star in the address bar. Click the star again – which turns yellow to indicate a bookmarked page – and you’re presented with a new option to add tags. You can add as many comma-separated tags as necessary to each of your bookmarks.

The new system reveals its muscle when you come to find your bookmarks. Tags can now be typed directly into the location bar (also dubbed the “Awesome bar” – see below) so that when you type “phones” for example, all the bookmarks that have been tagged with that word appear in a scrollable, drop-down list.

it_photo_5841You can take this one step further by creating your own Smart Bookmark Folders. Enter terms into the Search Bookmarks box on the right-hand side of the Library and you’ll be given the option to save that search as a Smart Bookmark Folder.

So, you could create separate folders for “Phone applications” or “Phone review” for example, and those folders will be updated every time you bookmark a page with those tags.

The “Awesome Bar”

While we’re not fond of the “affectionate name” Mozilla has christened its new Location Bar with, we’re certainly impressed with its capabilities. As well as allowing you to find bookmarks simply by entering the tags, the Awesome Bar offers other shortcuts to finding sites you’ve previously visited.

Enter the word “photo”, for example, and you’ll be presented with a drop-down list of all the sites you’ve previously visited with the word photo in the URL (i.e. or with photo in the site’s title tag (i.e. Facebook | Photos).

The word you’re searching for is highlighted – either in the URL or the name of the site – in the drop-down list, making it easier to find the relevant site at-a-glance.

It’s a remarkably swift way to find sites in your browsing history – far easier than digging through the History sidebar. And, after we’d been using it for a while, we found that the Awesome Bar quickly replaced Google as a way of finding those sites we remembered visiting a couple of months back, but couldn’t remember the name of.

Calling security

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. Click on it and it reveals a small pop-up, with what looks like a French traffic warden – dubbed “Larry the security guy” by Mozilla.

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 – including the respectable BBC, Google and even trusty old – don’t, which means it’s hard to distinguish the good guys from the rogues.

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