Firefox 3.0 is barely out of the gate, but already Mozilla is moving toward the future with the first alpha release of Firefox 3.1. The final release of 3.1 is scheduled for the end of 2008 with the usual series of alpha and beta releases in the coming months.
The first 3.1 alpha (code-named Shiretoko) already packs some impressive new features like the new visual tab switcher, which offers previews of pages, and changes the sorting order based on which tab was most recently open. In essence it mimics the behavior of cmd-tab application switchers on most OSes. The visual eye candy is quite nice, but the real benefit is the dynamic ordering, which makes it much easier to quickly jump between recently viewed tabs.
Also new in alpha 1 is the wildcard searching capabilities we mentioned earlier. Firefox 3.1 will allow you to quickly restrict your “awesome bar” searches using customizable wildcard characters. For instance typing an asterisk limits results to your bookmarks and typing a pound sign limits results to page titles (rather than titles and URLs).
The Gecko rendering engine, which powers Firefox under the hood, also has support for some new CSS options like text-shadow, box-shadow, border images and the HTML5 Canvas text API. The first three are already available in some other browsers like Safari, but with Firefox on-board as well, web designers will no doubt feel more comfortable using those elements in their designs.
The HTML 5 canvas support is a bit more experimental (the W3C spec is still in the draft stages), but Mozilla has rolled it in anyway. If you want get really bleeding edge, the latest Firefox nightly builds also include support for audio and video tags.
Like the Canvas element, the
HTML 5 elements are still in the draft stages, but the idea is to easily embed media without proprietary plugins (like Quicktime, Windows Media, etc). Technically both tags are codec-neutral, but Mozilla has bundled the Ogg Theora and Vorbis codecs giving you the option to deliver audio and video in an open format.
Keep in mind though that the
aren’t part of alpha 1. For those elements you’ll need to go to the nightly builds.
So far, Firefox 3.1 is looking like it will be a very impressive release, building on and refining many of the best features in 3.0, as well as adding some important new ones. If you’d like to test it out, head over to the download page, but bear in mind that, as this is an alpha, the usual warnings apply and most of your extensions will probably be disabled.