First Look : Firefox 3.1 beta

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Mozilla has announced that it has made the first beta of Firefox 3.1 available to the public, a big stepping stone before releasing it to the masses. Firefox 3.1 is said to be a big improvement over Firefox 3, and includes minor tweaks to the user interface. However, while it may look that they barely made any changes, most of the changes are in its coding.

Among the changes in the new version include the new Gecko engine 1.9.1, added support with CSS 2.1 and 3 properties, and that you can restrict your search with special characters on the “Smart Location Bar” (also known as the “Awesome Bar”).

The beta includes the new TraceMonkey Javascript engine, which is said to give a massive power boost that hopes to make it faster than its Google’s Chrome engine. This, however, has not been enabled by default, so you will need to find “javascript.options.jit.content” in the about:config.

Firefox 3.1 also sees the introduction of the W3C Geolocation Specification, allowing web applications to get information on where your location is through a simple Javascript API. You can get the same functionality by installing the Geode extension for Firefox 3.0, but the plug-in is not necessary in 3.1. We tested it on Outside.in Radar, and you can see the result below.

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For developers, there is support for the audio and video elements from HTML 5 (introduced in the alpha 2 release), and a new tab behaviour, with graphical thumbnails. When testing the video element, we noticed that the video got jumpy, and that there was no volume controls, except for muting it. As well, there was no seek bar. We hope that those features are added in the future.

The new tab behaviour is using the shortcut “Ctrl+Tab” to flick through it. Again, like Firefox 3 with the user interface, it will base it on the operating system that Firefox has been installed on. So, since this was installed on Windows Vista, then the tab behaviour with graphical thumbnails will match the “Alt+Tab” shortcut.

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Most of the other features have not been added in the beta, since they haven’t been fully implemented; however, Mozilla is still slowly pushing them out. Future beta versions are expected to include a new private browsing mode (a.k.a. Porn Mode) that would be similar to Google Chrome, and a new tag autocompletion in the bookmarking UI.

You can download the beta from the Mozilla website, and you can find the official notes of the development here. To note: Installing the beta will not override the installation of Firefox 3, but will override any settings. However, you can switch between the two. Plugins from Mozilla 3 will not work with Firefox 3.1 beta