Playing in a Minefield

Published on March 13, 2008

For the most part, I haven’t spent much time with Minefield. Firefox 2 works well enough for me that I haven’t had much desire to play around with the new stuff, especially seeing as many portions are inevitably either incomplete or broken. However, the recent beta 4 release prompted me to take it for a spin around the web. Here are a few thoughts on the latest build I’ve tested as of this writing (2008031205):

New Look
The new skin is interesting, but portions of it will definitely take some getting used to. Surely it’s not final (these things never are until the thing is actually released), so I’m hopeful there will still be a few tweaks. When using large toolbar buttons, the back button appears round, while the forward button is much smaller and rectangular; an odd pairing which is reminiscent of Internet Explorer 7. I tend to use the small toolbar buttons, so this change doesn’t affect me too much. The forward and back history menus have been consolidated into one menu (again, like IE7), which I think is a nice improvement. The new URL bar looks nice and provides a lot more information than the previous one did. A little star icon at the far right of the bar provides a quick means of bookmarking the current page, which is handy.
Improved Memory Usage
I put the new build through its paces at Google Maps, dragging around, zooming in and out, and generally trying to run up memory consumption (which I did successfully). After closing the corresponding tab, I noted that memory usage dropped considerably, and continued to decrease over time. The new garbage collection and memory defragmentation that has been implemented is clearly a big improvement. Firefox is still a hog, but it’s heading in the right direction.
Faster JavaScript
The JavaScript improvements which I recently mentioned are immediately noticeable. GMail and Google Maps feel a lot faster than they typically do, which is super great.
URL Bar Autocompletion
Autocompletion in the URL bar is now handled in a new (and exciting) way. As you type, matches are offered based on all text associated with a link. The page title, the URL itself, and bookmark keywords are all searched. Matched text can appear anywhere in the string, which is really handy.
Password Manager Prompts
The password manager now slides down from the top (like the information bar), so it’s not quite as intrusive. However, the handy keyboard shortcuts are no longer the same. In order to quickly answer the ‘Not Now’ choice, you have to press Alt+N instead of just N. This will take some getting used to.
Page Zoom
The new page zoom feature works really well. Images are magnified, as is the text on the page. There’s even an option to only zoom the text, leaving images alone. Pretty neat!

There are plenty of other changes in Minefield, so I recommend checking it out. I am starting to work on adding FF3 support to CoLT and Googlebar Lite, but it’s turning out to be a little more difficult than I initially thought. A host of code changes are needed in Googlebar Lite, since I’m currently using interfaces that are now deprecated. Hopefully I can get things updated in the near future.

4 Comments

kip

Something else I just noticed (this is FF3b4): the zoom setting for individual sites are remembered. So if there’s some particular site that uses tiny text, you can zoom in on it once and the next time you visit a page on that site (even a new url) you don’t have to zoom again. That’s pretty handy.

Wow! That’s a really handy feature that I hadn’t caught.

kip

Thought I’d comment on an old post, since I just noticed this. I had the same reaction to the new password bar that you did. I’m not sure if you’ve realized this, but it took me a while: the new password bar is not modal. In other words, if “not now” is what you would select, you don’t have to do anything and the bar will go away after you visit another page. This also has another nice feature: you can see if the login is successful before clicking “remember this password.” That way you don’t end up accidentally storing the wrong password for a site.

Your point about storing the wrong password is great, and something that the guys on DiggNation pointed out recently. This new interface is much better than before, and the fact that it’s not modal makes surfing in multiple tabs much friendlier.

Firefox 3 rocks!

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