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30 June 2009, 17:48

What's new in Firefox 3.5

by Chris von Eitzen

After more than a year in development, Mozilla has finally released version 3.5 of its open source Firefox web browser. Previously intended as an incremental update, Firefox 3.5 now includes a number of welcome new features and performance improvements.

Firefox 3.5 logo Although originally intended to be version 3.1, at the beginning of March, Mozilla confirmed that the next release would instead become version 3.5 in response to suggestions by developers that it would reflect the "increased" scope of the browser update. Firefox 3.5 now includes a number of welcome new features and performance improvements for developers and users alike. Several of the new features included in the release will very likely change the way that users look at the web, even if they don't consciously notice it. Whether it's using new location-based services to look up times at a local movie theatre, keeping that Christmas gift that they ordered online a secret, or simply watching the latest popular online videos, Firefox 3.5 is the next step in helping users take advantage of the web.

Under the hood & Web standards

The 3.5 release includes several Web standards improvements. It's based on the updated 1.9.1 Gecko layout engine which includes speculative parsing to render (draw) content even faster. Support for new web technologies, such as HTML5 video and audio elements, JavaScript query selectors and downloadable fonts, have also been added. The HTML 5 (HyperText Markup Language Version 5) <video> and <audio> tags allow for the embedding of arbitrary video and audio formats. Firefox includes support for several royalty-free codecs, like Ogg Vorbis, Theora, WAV and others. Support for proprietary formats including patented technology, such as QuickTime and MPEG-4, will be optional.

Web pages can now automatically  match the background to the ambient colour of embedded video.
Zoom Web pages can now automatically match the background to the ambient colour of embedded video.
Dynamic Content Injection is also supported, allowing Firefox 3.5 to treat videos like web pages, not separate content, and links can be included within the videos to other content or additional details. A Dynamic Content Injection demo is available on the Mozilla site for interested users. The media playback controls in Firefox 3.5 can be built using JavaScript and customised by the user or the site developer to act and look exactly as they want them. Users can now apply graphical transformations, such as SVG, and apply filters, detect edges in the video or apply a specific clipping path to video. Web developers now have more power over their video content and can make it interact with the web page itself, for example, changing the site or video frame background to match the ambient colour of the video. The new <audio> element can be used to insert music on a Web page, for example, as background music.

One of the key new features in Firefox 3.5 is the new TraceMonkey JavaScript engine which greatly improves the performance of JavaScript to make web applications run much faster than in Firefox 3. TraceMonkey adds native-code compilation to SpiderMonkey, Mozilla's JavaScript engine and is based on a technique developed at UC Irvine called "trace trees"PDF.

Firefox now supports HTML5 off line data storage for applications, which allows developers to cache information, such as site preferences and complex data, directly on a users system, improving performance and the over-all user experience. Tabs can now easily be dragged from the current window to be added to other open Firefox windows, or to create their own new browser window. Smart session restore lets users restore all of the tabs they had open should they be lost if the browser or system crashes. Other notable "under the hood" improvements include downloadable fonts and other new CSS properties, JavaScript query selectors and changes to the Smart Location Bar.

More details about the the new Web standards features can be found on the Firefox 3.5 for developers page.

Next: Location-Aware Browsing

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