What's New On Firefox 3

1. Easier downloads. While the older Download Manager was quite serviceable, Mozilla has made some nice tweaks in the new version. It now lists not only the file name, but the URL it was downloaded from, and includes an icon that leads to information about when and where you downloaded it. (The Remove link has been, well, removed from the Download manager -- you now have to right-click to delete a listing.)

Download Manager

Address Bar
The address bar is now more readable and searches both your history and your bookmark lists.
But the new feature I really approve of is the ability to resume a download that may have been abruptly stopped because Firefox, or your system, crashed. I tried it out by using the Task Manager to end firefox.exe during a download; when I brought Firefox up again, the Download Manager resumed the download as if nothing had happened.

2. An enhanced address bar. Mozilla has also made improvements in the autocomplete function of its address bar (which Mozilla calls a "location bar"), and I have to say I find it both impressive and useful. In Firefox 3 Beta 2, the autocomplete doesn't just offer a list of URLs that you've been to, but includes sites that are in your bookmark list.

3. A workable bookmark organizer. Speaking of bookmarks, the separate history/bookmarks sidebars and managers have been replaced or, rather, augmented by a single Places Organizer, which uses Windows Explorer's familiar tree-on-the-left/list-on-the-right format. It offers a simple, quick way to read and manage your history and bookmarks including the ability to immediately edit a bookmark's name, location and tags rather than having to go into the Properties box .

Places Organizer

4. Easier bookmarking. There are, in fact, quite a few new features involving bookmarking, some of which are small but highly useful. For example, you can now quickly create a bookmark by double-clicking on a star that appears in the right side of the address bar. You can also add tags to your bookmarks, which could work nicely as an organizational tool.

starred bookmark
You can quickly create a bookmark by double-clicking on the star in the address bar. (Click for larger view.)

There is also new folder called Smart Bookmarks in the toolbar. It offers three categories of bookmarks Most Visited, Recently Bookmarked and Recent Tags and is automatically populated during the course of your Web sessions. Since, like most people, I have a series of sites that I tend to visit regularly, I can see how something like the Most Visited list could prove handy as a one-click resource for my daily surfing.

5. Better memory management. I'm a great fan of Firefox, but there have been times when I've considered going back to Internet Explorer because of issues I was having with memory. After a couple of hours of adding and dropping tabs, Firefox could commandeer nearly 200MB of memory, at which point I'd usually have to shut it down to prevent my other apps from grinding to a halt.

Windows Task Manager showing Firefox memory usage
The new version of Firefox appears to have a smaller memory footprint than its predecessor.
Mozilla has announced that the new version handles memory usage better, so I decided to put it through a modest test. I opened the Firefox 3 beta and my current copy of Firefox on different systems; initial memory usage for the current version (with add-ons disabled) was 25,740KB, about 100KB less than the new beta's usage of 25,848KB. I then opened five tabs in both versions, ran a two-minute YouTube video, and shut everything down but the initial home page. At that point, Firefox 3 Beta 2 was using 46,296KB of memory , more than 2,500KB less than the 48,968KB that Firefox 2 was using.