First look: Firefox 3 beta 4

Firefox 3 adds a host of features any Web surfer will want

There is a handy new security feature tied to the Address bar. Click the favicon of the site you're visiting (located on the leftmost side of the Address bar), and you'll be told whether it has been "verified" as being the site it says it is, using its Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificate. As a practical matter, verification doesn't mean much right now; very few sites use those certificates. However, some, such as PayPal , do, and hopefully more will in the future.

More useful is that you can click the More information button that appears with the verification, and a tabbed dialog box pops up, allowing you to get a great deal of information about the site -- whether you've visited the site before, whether it uses cookies, whether you have a password on the site, and so on -- and be able to view the cookies and passwords. In addition, you can customize how you browse the site, setting such features as whether to allow pop-ups and cookies, and whether to load images.

Better security and more

The newest version of Firefox includes other security features as well, including protection that warns you if you're visiting a site known to host or install viruses, spyware, Trojans or other malware. Firefox now tells your anti-virus software that it's downloading a file, so that your software can check it. It also disables old, unsafe Firefox add-ins and extensions.

The browser integrates better visually with whatever operating system it is installed on by using OS-specific icons and toolbars, and taking on more of the operating system's look and feel. Other changes include better management of plug-ins.

There are many features for developers as well, including one that could be very important for users. Mozilla says that Firefox 3 can be used for offline functionality with sites such as Gmail , although site developers have to add offline support in order for users to take advantage of it.

The bottom line

It's this simple: When Firefox 3 goes into final release, you'll want it. It's a significant improvement over Firefox 2, adding a host of features any Web surfer will want. You may even want to test it today. Even though Mozilla says that this version is only for Web developers, I found it surprisingly stable and bug-free (I tested the version for Vista).

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