Firefox 3 Early Review

Firefox 3 Early Review Firefox 3.0, the first major new release of the popular Mozilla browser in quite some time, has been out for a few hours now and I’ve installed it. Thus far, I haven’t noticed much change other than that one of my favorite extensions, Google Browser Sync, is at least temporarily unavailable.

Computer World‘s Steven Vaughan-Nichols is thrilled, however. He’s noted, as have many of us, that Firefox has actually been getting worse in recent months, as constant updates seemed to make the performance more sluggish and causing far-too-frequent browser crashes, obviating the very thing that made so many of us switch from Internet Explorer.

What was happening was that Firefox’s bad memory management habits were zapping me. For example, Firefox 2.x used different-sized chunks of memory. Then, as it constantly grabbed and released memory, its memory map began to look like a beaten-up jigsaw puzzle. Here a hole, there a troublesome spot where someone had torn off part of a piece to make it fit, and so on.

In addition, Firefox 2.0 kept full-size copies of images in memory. When you displayed a JPEG or any of the other compressed picture formats, Firefox kept the full-size uncompressed images in memory even if you weren’t currently looking at them. Since a single 100k image can eat up a megabyte-plus of memory, this old way of handling images can waste memory quickly.

Mozilla’s engineers seem to have fixed that — or at least improved it — in Version 3. Now, if you’re not looking at an image, it’s been saved in memory in its original compressed format. They’ve also worked on the memory map issue.

That, along with some improvements in security and cache handling means faster loads and fewer crashes. Indeed, “in the weeks I’ve been running Firefox 3 on multiple systems on the same exact same PCs doing the same work as I was doing with Firefox 2.x, I haven’t seen a single freeze-up.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I’ve been living without Google Browser Sync for a while since I’ve been running nightly builds as my primary browser, but I miss it – Mozilla Labs has an extension called “Weave” that’s designed to do the same things, but it’s never really worked right for me on OS X.

  2. BigFire says:

    The Google Browser Sync has been dropped as a product by Google. They’ll continue to support it until the end of the year for 2.0.

    Yeah, it’s time for me to look for alternative. The only must have extension that hasn’t been updated yet is All-In-One Mouse Gesture, which can be hacked into working easy enough.

  3. I downloaded an earlier beta and it was a marked improvement in speed over 2.whatever on my Mac. Overall, I’m pleased, and the add-ons are getting updated pretty quickly. Most of mine were updated before today’s “official” release.

  4. Gmail and Google Reade appear to load faster (but that may be the power of suggestion).

    I am still having the YouTube problems I mentioned a while back in a different thread about Firefox.

  5. Bithead says:

    I was using a number of plugs on V2, that won’t work in the new version… FasterFox being among them.

    As a result I found the response times a tad slower, which actually speaks well of the newer version, since FasterFox was such a kick in the raster.

    I run a multi-screen system, and generally blog with at least two windows open, two tabs each, so Firefox gets a pretty intense workout each day. Hasn’t crashed, so far. I’ll have a better idea I suppose once my other plugs come online.