A Week in Shiretoko

Firefox 3.5 rocks! That’s my verdict in a nutshell. There are a lot of new and revamped features, but those most relevant to me are the conformation to HTML 5 and CSS 3 standards, along with the TraceMonkey JavaScript rendering engine and built in open media capabilities. Lately a lot of pages have been rendered awfully by Internet Explorer, even version 8 and Google Chrome. But all versions of Firefox have been quite perfect in this regard, save for a very few glitches. There have been several new features inspired by Google Chrome: Private Browsing, Tearaway Tabs, Restore Recently Closed Windows and Faster JavaScript(the last one not exactly inspired, but a necessity).

Firefox still uses Mozilla’s Gecko engine, so it’s quite stable and reliable. I’ve heard rumours of Firefox switching over to WebKit, but I don’t see it happening in the near future, at least till version 5 or 6. It fails the Acid3 test, I tested and got 93/100, but that doesn’t matter as far as pages I visit are displayed properly. And there are so many languages supported, it can be used by almost every one of the 7 billion people in the world.

Private Browsing: Similar to Google Chrome’s In Cognito mode, it does not store any information about your browsing habits in that session. This might be useful for people trying to hide their browsing habits from others, removing the need for external utilities. Another feature similar is the ability to ‘Forget this site’ in the History browser. It removes the particular domain from the history, but the sub domains remain in the browser history.

Tearaway Tabs: This is a real cool feature, if someone opens a new window instead of a new tab, you can remove the panel(or task bar for Windows users) clutter by dragging the new window’s tab onto the older window. This is a particularly useful feature for careless cashewnuts like me.

Restore Recently Closed Windows: This is also a feature for the more careless of the populace. You close a window, and then hope the browser will open those tabs the next time, no hopes now on, it is a certainty and it restores the text you type into the forms.(Note: this worked well on Fedora 11, I’m not sure about Windows)

Faster JavaScript: This is THE feature for me, and it works as billed, making Firefox 3.5 the fastest browser on the planet. Google Docs works like a charm, better than even Google’s own browser! Thanks to this feature, Shiretoko (For all of you who’re wondering what that is, it is the codename of this beauty, and also a beautiful National Park in Hokkaido, Japan) catches up with Google Chrome and even betters it in rendering JavaScript. TraceMonkey has worked wonders, and I wonder if the IE team will use it for version 9 or 10.

Add-ons: These have been the strongest point of Firefox for a long time, and 3.5 does not surprise me at all, following the same lineage. All my add-ons have a 3.5 version, but if you don’t have a version for any add-on you use, it’ll be available before this month end(most add-ons) or you can take a look at the alternate add-ons which deliver the same functions.

Built in open media: Built in media support, especially video was actually supposed to be in the specification for HTML 5, but there seem to have been some problems with it, thanks to the fight between Open Source and Proprietary software. There were two choices: Xiph.org’s open source Ogg Theora and Apple’s proprietary H.264 codec. According to Ian Hickson, maintainer of the HTML 5 specification, Apple refuses to include Theora because of a “lack of hardware support and an uncertain patent landscape.” But Xiph.org has already made it clear that both the codecs, Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis are free to use without any royalty or licence(The true spirit of open source). As we’re caught in the never ending war, Firefox has quietly integrated Ogg Theora into version 3.5, and it really rocks, loading faster than Flash video, and playing without any semblance of the online origin of the media. I viewed some of the videos on Linux Journals in OGV format, and it is good for casual viewing, under which category YouTube videos fall. The Pirate Bay’s video site, VideoBay is based on this feature.

Firefox, at this stage, is not optimised for multiple core processors, but IE and Chrome are moving there. I don’t mind the current single core state of Firefox affairs, for I don’t think you’ll ever need two cores for a browser, at least until online high definition video and real broadband becomes a reality. Further most systems in use are not dual core, especially the pre-2007 ones. I, for one, use a Pentium 4 system at 3.06 GHz with 1280MB memory, but my system never poses problems on Fedora 11 and almost all Linux distributions. I believe a transition to multiple core processor optimization can be spread over three or four years. Firefox has not necessarily always done everything first, other browsers have been pioneers in some features too, but the features are best implemented in this wonderful open source project. If you’re using Firefox 3 or any other browser, upgrade to 3.5. If you’re using 3.5, congratulations and have a look at the add-ons available.

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