FireBird becomes FireFoxI’ve been recommending FireFox for years now. In fact, I’ve been using it as my primary browser since it was called FireBird. It has been a more secure and a more feature-rich choice for years. (If you’re interested in the security aspects then you might enjoy reading a recent article I wrote for the International Mac Podcast blog comparing Safari and FireFox from a security point of view.) What got me hooked on FireBird was it’s plugin architecture. The idea of being able to customise my browser really appealed to me and as FireBird has grown into FireFox the list of available plugins has grown too. No other browser is as expandable as FireFox. If you can think of it, the chances are someone’s written a plugin for it!

However, FireFox has long suffered from two major shortcomings, memory leaks you could pilot a large ship through, and a non-native look. FireFox has been chewing up insane amounts of RAM for years, and has always looked like a fish out of water, particularly on OS X. These two problems are both fixed in FireFox 3 and if that was all they’d done I’d be recommending it highly, but they’ve done much more.

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The new address bar with its SpotLight-like live searching is amazing, and the support for EV Certificates and the simple way of getting at security information by clicking on the favicon are great. The improved handling of problem SSL certs is also nice. If there is something not right with a cert the page is not displayed, but instead you get a message telling you there is a problem with the cert and allowing you to create either a permanent or temporary exception for it. This is so much less cryptic that how other browsers handle cert issues, and a big improvement over FireFox 2.

I really only have two complaints about FireFox 3, firstly, there are a lot of plugins that have not been updated for compatibility with FireFox 3 yet. This is the case with all major new FireFox releases and I expect the problem to go away within a matter of weeks. The popular plugins under active development have pretty much all been updated and I’m sure the more obscure ones will soon be updated too.

My second complaint is the most disappointing. Historically web browsers have always been terrible at rendering photographs properly because they’ve not supported embedded colour spaces. This lack of proper colour management results in photographs looking different in browsers than they do in image editing software, and usually not for the better! Many people might not notice the difference but as a photographer I do. I spend ages tweaking my photos till they’re just right so seeing them poorly displayed on my web gallery annoys me. Safari is currently the only major browser that does proper colour management by default. FireFox 3 contains the code to do it, but for reasons it’s turned off by default, and worse yet, there’s no simple switch provided in the settings dialogue to turn it on. Instead you have to manually turn it on using a plugin, or the little-known about:config interface. I have it turned on and it seems to work very well. If you’re interested in turning it on too then you can follow these instructions.

As you can see, these are rather minor complaints, and none are show stoppers. FireFox 3 brings FireFox right to the top of the browser hierarchy, at least for me, and is a nice improvement over FireFox 2. It’s well worth downloading and trying, not matter what OS you use.