But for a third beta, this version of Firefox 3 includes some fairly significant changes from the previous betas, including changes to the main user interface of the browser.
By far the biggest change is the inclusion of what is being called the keyhole interface for the Back and Forward buttons on the browser toolbar. This keyhole essentially combines the two buttons into a single composite button that is shaped like, well, a keyhole.
In the keyhole the Back (which tends to be used more than Forward) is the larger portion of the button. The Forward button becomes a smaller button to the right of the Back button and a drop-down menu to the right of the Forward button lets users view all pages they have browsed in that session, with the page they are currently on shown in bold type.
In general I liked this new keyhole modification to the Back/Forward buttons and found it intuitive. However, some users may be a little confused at first.
The Star button in the address bar has also been improved somewhat, making it possible to bookmark a page with a single click and get more detailed bookmarking information with two clicks. However, in my usage of the betas I’ve come to dislike this star button as it sits right next to the drop-down button that lets users view pages they have visited. As a frequent user of the drop down I have accidentally clicked the star several times, often bookmarking pages I had no desire to bookmark.
Other usability enhancements include improved site finding accuracy in the auto-complete features in the address bar, as well as better icon and interface integration for users on Mac OS X and Linux.
A very welcome new improvement in Beta 3 makes it much easier to find and install extensions and add-ons for your Firefox browser. In the new add-ons dialog users can now search and browse for new extensions within the add-ons window itself, saving users from having to open a Web page to look for extensions on the Mozilla Web site.
This beta has also seen a couple of small improvements to the download manager, with even more information on downloaded files available from a contextual menu. Also, progress information on downloads is now shown in the browser status bar in the bottom right-hand corner of the browser window.
Firefox 3 Beta 3 now treats podcasts and videocasts as if they were a specific file type, making it possible to define helper applications that automatically launch when a user clicks on a podcast feed.
Security features have also been somewhat enhanced in this release, with added information available when clicking for site information. The browser also claims to provide a clearer warning when a user visits a site that is harboring malware that can potentially target Web browsers.
This feature worked in the pre-set test page that Mozilla provided, but when I surfed to Web pages that Google search had listed as potentially harboring malware, Firefox 3 Beta 3 loaded the sites with no warning.
This beta also claims to have improved performance and memory usage. In general, my tests of this and the last beta have shown a Firefox that is much less of a resource hog than previous versions.
Those wanting to check out this latest beta of Firefox 3 can download it at http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/all-beta.html.