Firefox 3 beta 3, working for me...

I've been using Firefox for a long time, and liked it a lot. Recently that long honey moon period started to wane. Firefox 2.x has some pretty annoying performance and memory management issues, regularly chewing up 700-800Mb of memory (on a 1Gb machine), and hitting 90-100% CPU resource. Admittedly I have 4-5 windows open, with 10-20 tabs in each, and a bunch of extensions installed, so I run it hard, but none the less, the problems are there. I was also sick of fan-boys explaining away issues (even refusing to admit there were problems), with comments like "it's the extensions, duuude", or "what do you expect with so many windows, duuude". Neither of these are reasons for chewing up all resources on a machine. Opera was starting to look mighty shiny.

I've been trying out Firefox 3 beta 3, and have to say that it looks like things are back under control. Four windows open, probably 50 or so tabs in total, with a totally reasonably 110Mb memory used, and the main thing... that amount of memory remains pretty static across many days.

CPU usage is well under control -- averaging at 0-3% when not actively in use, and no climbing use over time. Sure if I open a new window or tab, memory is used -- that's okay. But if I don't do anything, things remain steady. Sweet, duuude.

And as a grand finale, you can finally set a tab loading, and then switch to another tab with no annoying pause, preventing the new tab from opening. It's immediate. It's the way it should have been, but it wasn't. Now it is. Shiiiiny.

Installation

On Windows Beta 3 installs nicely into a new directory, and picks up whatever extensions you currently have installed. Note though that Firefox 3 beta 3 will overwrite your existing version of Firefox under Mac OS/X or Linux.

Most 2.x extensions are not yet compatible with 3.x. Installing the nightly tester tools extension tells Firefox to ignore the version compatibility checks on extensions. That way you can test to see if the extension works with 3.x. Some extensions work with no changes, others not so much. AdBlock seems to ,work just fine; TabMix needed a new version to be installed.

Oh, and any of you who remember moving from 1.x to 2.x, and lost all the GUI customizations you did, well the customizations I'd made to the toolbars, and layout, came over from 2.x just fine.

What's in it?

In addition to dramatically reduced CPU usage, here's the good stuff, in order of what I think is actually useful:

  • Speed: Lots of major architectural changes, like changing the way page reflow layout works, and the Gecko 1.9 Cairo rendering engine make this thing fast. Noticeably faster than prior versions. On informal testing it's as fast as Safari on the Windows platform.
  • Memory usage: mentioned before, the new XPCOM cycle collector actually seems to work. More work remains, but so far, a really good turn-around. Firefox is stable again!
  • If you close your browser with multiple tabs open a dialog will popup confirming that you want to close all the tabs or save the session. Okay SessionSaver used to do this, but that extension became flaky lately, so this is a welcome addition. Seems to work too.

Not so good stuff:

  • Location bar & auto-complete: type in all or part of the title, tag or address of a page and you get a list of bookmark and history matches. Too cluttered to be useful, easy to ignore though.
  • Some new eye candy was added. Don't care too much for it, but since my theming wasn't screwed with I don't much care.
  • Places is the new souped-up bookmarking and browser history management tool. Nothing earth shattering here. Still doesn't allow drag-and-drop across folders. On the list to be fixed though.

Go thee, and get it

Beta 3, is just that. A beta. I didn't have problems with it, and it installed itself nicely in a separate directory from Firefox2, with no adverse effects. There's one more beta to go, and then onto a couple of release candidates. Firefox 3 should be production ready in the next few months.

In the meantime, AdBlock still works, and if you're having performance or memory issues with Firefox 2, and Opera is shining ever closer, give Firefox one last chance. I'm glad I did.