After a year of development, the browser that originally began life as Firefox 3.1 and codenamed "Shiretoki" is being released today by Mozilla.
The new Firefox 3.5 browser debuts in a hot market for new browser releases, with Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 and Apple's Safari 4" out now and Google's Chrome 3 currently in development.
Due to the fact that Firefox now has over 270 million users, Mozilla sees the new browser release as having a broad impact on the Web itself.
"We're not just considering this to be an upgrade for users," Mozilla's Director of Firefox Mike Beltzner told InternetNews.com. "We've also stuffed Firefox 3.5 full of free open source technology that will upgrade the Web."
While the improved speed of Firefox 3.5 is a key improvement in the browser release, support for new and emerging Web standards are where Mozilla's sees the greatest impact.
Firefox 3.5 includes support for a number of HTML 5 specifications, including video and offline storage. For video, the new HTML 5 video tag enables users to run video directly in the browser without the need for an external plug-in player. Safari 4 and Chrome 3 also provide support for HTML 5 video.
Offline storage is another key HTML 5 feature enabled by Firefox 3.5. It provides users with the ability to store some of their Web/Software as a Service (SaaS) type data offline. Beltzner explained that Mozilla's offline storage approach involves APIs (define) that allow people to create data objects and do the common things that a developer wants to do with data objects, like find, store and update.
Beltzner sees great potential for offline storage for big social media companies like Facebook.
"So on database storage we've been talking to Facebook and asking them, if they were to do offline applications what would they actually need?" Beltzner said. "I think it's that open collaborative nature that will help us to upgrade the Web."
One of the most visible changes that Firefox 3.5 will enable for Web developers comes by way of support for CSS Web Fonts.
"When you think about it, Web designers have had to play with the same ten fonts that they could reliably ensure were on everyone's computer," Beltzner said.
Beltzner explained that the way fonts have worked in the past is that a Web developer specified a particular font that needed to be resident on a user's computer. If that font wasn't present the user would get a default font. With CSS Web Fonts that model changes and developers can now specify any font they want by providing a reference to where the font is available.
"You can just say 'use my handwriting font, here's the font and it's a 20kb file,'" Beltzner said. "So when the browser hits the page, we pull down the file and render the page in that font. When you leave the page, we dispose of the font."
Tabs and Security
One of the key features of the earliest Firefox releases was the introduction of tabbed browsing. With the 3.5 release, Mozilla has made some incremental updates to improve the tab experience.
Firefox 3.5 has tear off tabs, so users can drag a tab from one browser window to another now. The new browser also includes the ability to undo a closed browser window. It's a feature that expands on a Firefox 3 features that lets user recover closed tabs from their history menu.
On the security front, Firefox 3.5 will be the first Mozilla browser to have a private browsing mode, which is something that Safari, Chrome and IE users already have. With private browsing mode all the history and cookie information for a particular browser session is discarded as soon as the browser window is closed.
In addition to private browsing mode, Mozilla is adding a pair of what Beltzner referred to as, 'post hoc' private browsing features. Firefox 3.5 users can now delete history and cookies for the last hour or two hours of browsing in contrast to the current all or nothing proposition.
Additionally, there is a 'Forget this Site' feature whereby if you a user right click on a history entry they can delete all the entries and associated cookies for a particular site.
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