Firefox 3.1 alpha 1 landed roughly as scheduled this week with little fanfare, and is now available for developer testing.
There are a number of new features in the dot one release, most notably a new tab switching feature and more control over what search results are displayed in the Smart Location Bar.
The new Control-Tab feature, which currently exists as a Firefox 3 add-on, allows for faster switching between tabs. When invoked, Control-Tab will now display the thumbnails of previously visited tabs in the order in which one has visited them. The Control Tab feature is being developed by Firefox developers Dão Gottwald and Jenny Boriss.
"Control-Tab is a first step towards increased visual navigation and content organization features. This is useful if you need to quickly flip between two tabs that aren’t next to each other and makes it easier to carry out tasks which require multiple tabs," wrote Boriss about the feature in a recent blog. "Control-Tab shows thumbnails of your previously used tabs, so finding them by sight is fast. This is especially helpful if you’ve opened up so many tabs that some are obscured. "
The developer notes, however, that this implementation will disable the current Control-Tab shortcut In Firefox, which when invoked takes users to the next tab. Instead, Control-PageDown will fulfill this task.
Version 3.1 also gives users more control over what search results are displayed in the Smart Location Bar and the ability to view Smart Keyword queries in the drop down menu. "There’s some new ways to change what shows up in the Smart Location Bar such as restricting results to show only your history and not your unvisited bookmarks or matching only in the URL instead of also in the title," wrote Edward Lee, developer of the Smart Location Bar that first debuted in Firefox 3, also known as the "awesomebar." "For Alpha 1, you can restrict the search to your history by typing “^”, or bookmarks with “*”, or tagged pages with “+”. To make what you’ve typed match only in the URL type “@”, and for title/tags only use “#”."
The first beta is scheduled to appear in mid August and beta 2 is planned for September. The Firefox team is also looking to offer support for offline storage and private browsing features in the 3.1 update, among other features in the next round of betas. The final version is due by year's end or during the first quarter of 2009.