Firefox 3: Impressions, Issues, and Verdict

It’s been nearly a week since I installed Firefox 3. And though the end result is largely positive, the process wasn’t free of complications. As I’ve discussed before, sure enough, my major issues revolved around the Firefox catch-22: extensions.

The first issue is that Firefox 3 doesn’t check to see if your existing extensions (from Firefox 2) are compatible until after it’s installed. It installs itself, replaces your working copy of Firefox 2, and then basically says, “oh, by the way, here’s a list of extensions you were using that won’t work now.” How hard would it be for Firefox to give you that list before it’s overwritten your working copy of Firefox 2?

In my case, my favorite theme was not compatible (Blue Ice) along with half a dozen extensions I use daily: copy plain text, delicious complete, dictionary tooltip (this is the extension I found so useful, I paid for it), AVG safe search, and Google pagerank status, to name a few.

Leaving that problem aside for a moment, I also realized that my bookmarks did not transfer properly. How frustrating. After some searching, I found the problem to be that Firefox 3 does not import your bookmarks from Firefox 2 if, at anytime in the past, you used the Firefox 3 beta. So since I tried the Firefox 3 beta back in January for two days, it meant a big headache for me now.

For a moment, I was frustrated enough to go back to Firefox 2. But once I found the fix for my bookmarks problem, I decided to look through the available extensions for Firefox 3 in hopes to find some that might be able to replace the ones I was used to having in Firefox 2. This is where the good news finally came.

I was able to find extensions that had the same or better functionality than all but two of my previous extensions. The two in question are copy plain text (makes it so that any text copied from within Firefox is stripped of its formatting) and dictionary tooltip. Luckily dictionary tooltip released a new version a few days after I installed Firefox 3. So that leaves me, as of now, with only one piece of missing functionality.

As for not having my favorite theme, I’m actually impressed enough with the default Firefox 3 theme that it doesn’t bother me. As I’ve said before, Firefox is my browser of choice mostly via its extensions. But when I have to take two steps backward (broken extensions) before taking one step forward (new features), I’m disappointed. Luckily, this time around it feels its only one step backward and dozens of steps forward.

This version of Firefox is much faster. While Firefox 2 would lock up on me a couple times a week with even more occurrences of slow downs, Firefox 3 has not locked up or slowed down on me once! And that’s even with instances of 30+ tabs open and the browser not being closed for days at a time. In fact, new benchmarks out today confirm that Firefox 3′s performance is better than pretty much all other popular browsers.

Huge improvements were also made to the address bar (now called the “awesome” bar), which allow you to type in practically anything (not just an official web address) while it tries to read your mind based on your recent browsing activity and bookmarks. Speaking of bookmarks, the system is much more easy to use and organize.

Other little improvements are nice too, like the way you can browse for new extensions from within the browser itself. And when the browser asks if you want to save a password, it’s not obtrusive like it used to be (used to be a popup you had to answer before you could do anything, now it’s an out of the way drop down question that doesn’t get in the way of browsing).

Overall, I’m hooked. This is the best browser I’ve used to date. If only the initial upgrade process were better…

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  • http://www.techconsumer.com Paul Ellis

    I’ve actually been trying Opera 9.5 (my first time using Opera BTW) recently, and I think you’d like it. I’ll have to do a write-up sometime soon. It is fast, and almost everything I’d use an extension (content/ad-block, Firebug, form autofill, etc) to do in FF is built-in in Opera. Most of the new features in/for Firefox (awesome bar, Weave browser sync, improved file transfer management, session support, full page zoom, etc) were already available in Opera too. Some, like the Wand feature, aren’t even really available for FF.

    It imported all of my bookmarks (even though I had used Firefox 3 betas :) from FF too.

  • http://rigelt.blogspot.com Tom

    Hi Bob – if you so much rely on all those extensions and bookmarks, why do you care for a x.0 version software anyway? Not to mention beta releases. There’s a reason for all the warnings included in alpha and beta testing. I faced similar problems you did but didn’t care the least at this point in time. In 60 days most of these problems will be history. Anyways – although I had quite some 3.0 crashes, my verdict is the same: best browser I’ve used to date.

  • http://www.bytehead.org/blog/ Bryan Price

    That’s why I went to portableapps.org, downloaded portable Firefox 3.0, and tried to install all my extensions. Tab Mix Pro still isn’t ready. My theme (Noia Extreme 2.0) isn’t ready, and I haven’t found a good theme I like that runs on FF3 yet. So I’m still running FF2 until these items get resovled.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    Good comments. I feel like my point is confirmed by the way others handle the same problem. A x.0 release is no excuse for not having a fundamental issue resolved (i.e., giving the user the chance to know which existing extensions will work before the install, not after).

    The portable work around is a nice way to try before committing, but it’s just that: a work around. The fact that users have to jump through hoops for these kinds of things should have Mozilla rethinking the process.

    Also, I should note that someone from Mozilla contacted me with some good news. Firefox 2 will soon offer users a chance to update (2.0.x -> 3.0.x) and will tell people which of their add-ons are not compatible before offering the update.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    Oh, and Paul, what’ the “Wand” feature?

  • Alex R.

    Bob-

    Try the nightly tester tools extension–it allows you to force an extension to work. It works for me about 75% of the time with no problems:

    http://www.oxymoronical.com/web/firefox/nightly

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    Thanks, Alex. I’ll have to give that a shot.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Paul Ellis

    The Wand is an auto form filler and username/password manager. The password manager is pretty normal, but the auto form filler is a lot more sophisticated than other ones like the Google toolbar’s implementation. Most auto form fillers will only let you fill the entire form or really just the parts of the form that it thinks are a name, address, phone, etc.

    With the Wand if I am in any arbitrary form (like for posting a comment on a blog) and I type “P” it will have a drop down with Paul, Paul Ellis, and paul@notmyrealemailaddress.com. If I type “h” it will pop-up http://www.techconsumer.com. Basically any field can be filled with anything from my Wand information. It even has a few “other” fields for any other information you enter regularly (multiple usernames, alternate address, etc).

    It is a lot better than any other implementation I’ve used, and it comes built-in.

  • http://rigelt.blogspot.com Tom

    something is odd though… the thing I hated most while tracking FF3 development, has become one of the key features to me: the interface design.
    Now that FF is out, I realized that it can be tweaked to look awesome. You might want to click on my name above to see a screenshot.

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