The newly released Firefox 3.6 may be just a point upgrade, but it does offer some welcome new capabilities and improvements over Version 3.5 that make it worthwhile.
The most noticeable new feature in the new Mozilla browser is Personas, previously available only through an extension. Essentially simple themes for the browser, Personas allow users to make changes to the look of the browser.
Ready-made Personas are available at www.getpersonas.com. As I browsed through the gallery at the site, I could deploy and try out new Personas for my Firefox browser with a single button-click. Once I had downloaded different Personas, I could switch among them or uninstall them using the Themes tab in the Add-ons management window. Personas also can be easily developed by anyone with basic Web authoring and design skills.
With Firefox 3.6, Mozilla has also made a welcome improvement to the way in which the browser handles classic plug-ins. Although it has been easy with previous versions of Firefox to keep Extension add-ons up to date, the same can't be said for classic plug-ins. With Version 3.6, Firefox now tracks plug-ins, and users can view a Web page to see if their plug-ins are up-to-date or need to be upgraded.
Firefox has been one of the leaders in supporting the emerging HTML5 standard, and Version 3.6 provides some new capabilities in the handling of video. When viewing HTML5 video natively in the browser, users can now right-click in the video window (so long as the site hasn't blocked access to the video context window) and choose to view the video in full-screen mode. In this mode, all browser user interface features are removed, with pop-up video controls at the bottom of the screen.
However, as an open-source browser, Firefox does not support the proprietary h.264 video codec. This means that Firefox does not currently work with the recently announced YouTube videos available through HTML5.
Firefox 3.6 also features improvements to the underlying engine and performance of the Web browser. In initial tests, the speed of the browser-in terms of both start-up time and site browsing performance-was good. In tests performed with the Peacekeeper benchmark, Firefox 3.6 showed notable improvement over Version 3.5 of the browser, and was very close in performance to Chrome 2.0 (though still a bit behind Chrome 3.0).
As always, Firefox is available on most operating systems, including Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. To download Firefox 3.6, go to www.mozilla.com.
Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.