Firefox 3.6 - The review

I've had Firefox 3.6 installed on my system for a few hours now and I've been putting it through its paces, I'm ready to give you my thoughts and feelings on this new release.

I've had Firefox 3.6 installed on my system for a few hours now and I've been putting it through its paces, I'm ready to give you my thoughts and feelings on this new release.

Firefox 3.6 isn't a major release, so don't expect to experience any huge, radical changes the way you browse the web. There are no major interface advances, and most of the tech tweaks are hidden away so you're only likely to spot if you go looking for them. That said, it doesn't mean that you should ignore what Firefox 3.6 has to offer.

Performance

A while ago I concluded that the page rendering and JavaScript processing performance of both Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome browsers had evolved to a point where speed was no longer an issue. About the only valid take away from measuring the performance of Firefox and Chrome is to compare them to the still abysmal performance of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. When it comes to performance, IE8 is way behind the curve, and lagging severely behind the competition.

So how fast is Firefox 3.6? According to Mozilla, Firefox 3.6 is some three times faster tahan Firefox 3.0, and about 20% faster than 3.5. My testing shows that 3.6 is indeed over three times faster than 3.0, but when it comes to 3.6 vs 3.5, I'm seeing a performance increase nearer to 15%. Still, 15% performance increase is pretty impressive, especially considering that this is a minor release.

Is the performance boost noticeable? If you're coming at it from 3.5, no, not really. However, I can notice a different with JavaScript heavy sites such a Google Mail between 3.6 and 3.0.

What about the memory leaks? Are they gone? To be perfectly honest, I can't tell you. I've not seen signs of any issues yet, but I don't find these things to be predictable and will need to spend more time with the browser before I can comment.

New features

Like I said earlier, don't expect huge change in Firefox 3.6. That said, there are a few new features worthy of a mention.

Personas

One cool new feature is called Personas. This allows the user to customize the look of their browser with a single click. Sure, it's just a method of skinning the UI with an image, but don't underestimate the feel-good factor that this single feature can give people. It's a low-drag way for people to make the browser feel like their own personal space.

These changes are more superficial than changing the browser theme, but they are fun and simple to use.

To find out more about Personas, and to download them, check out GetPersonas.com.

Safety and stability -->

Outdated Plug-in detection

Another cool feature of Firefox 3.6 is one that will make your browsing safer and more stable - an improved plug-in checker. Now Firefox 3.6 checks your plug-ins and if it finds that you are running an outdated plug-in it directs you to a new page on Mozilla's site that allows you to download new versions (note that the plug-in check page needs Firefox 3.6 to work).

Under the hood tweaks

There are also a whole raft of under the hood improvements, many aimed at developers. These tweaks include:

  • Support for full-screen video
  • Web Open Fonts Format support
  • CSS gradients
  • Drag and drop support
  • Orientation support for systems featuring accelerometers

Should I upgrade?

So, should you upgrade? My answer to this is going to be "yes ... but ..." Yes, Firefox 3.6 is a worthy update, and offers something for everybody, even if it is only a performance boost. But what about that "but"? In this case the "but" is dependent on existing add-ons and plug-ins that you have installed. The problem with any version change in Firefox is that this could cause plug-ins to stop working, and if these are critical to your day to day operations then this could make Firefox 3.6 a deal-breaker until developers update their add-ons.

If you really want to make the switch to Firefox 3.6 but are being prevented by an extension that doesn't seem to work, then you might be able to force compatibility using this handy tweak. I make no guarantees and your mileage may vary, but it's worth a try.

Other than issues with add-ons, I see no reason for people not to upgrade to 3.6. If you're one of those types that worries about bugs, then wait a few weeks for 3.6.1 or 3.6.2, which are bound to make an appearance shortly.

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