Fire Up the Fox, It's Download Mania!

After three years, five betas, and three release candidates, it's finally here: Mozilla has officially released Firefox 3. The release was met with a flurry of downloads, a coordinated effort aimed at setting the world record for most software downloads within a twenty-four hour period.

So, what's so hot about Firefox 3? For those who have shied away from the beta versions and are completely in the dark, quite a lot. To start with, according to Mozilla, it's faster than ever. How fast? Three to four times faster than Firefox 2, and seven times faster than Internet Explorer, now firmly entrenched in the granny lane of the information superhighway. It's also more secure, boasting a new feature meant to fish out malicious sites, flashing a bright red warning if the user wanders into a digital minefield, as well as anti-virus integration and enhancements to its handling of SSL and other security protocols.

Also highly touted is the "Awesome Bar," or more formally, the "Smart Location Bar," which uses Kreskin-like powers to sniff out that site you just can't remember but urgently need to visit, and also includes the ability to add tags to pages in order to find them quicker. Other usability enhancements include a new download manager with resumable downloading, full-page zoom capability, OS-integration for Windows, Mac, and Linux, upgrades to extension and plugin management, and better password tools.

Of course, there has been plenty of turbocharging under the hood as well, with the updated Gecko 1.9 layout engine providing improved CSS, SVG, and font display, a power boost for the JavaScript engine, Robespierre-esque chopping of memory leaks, and a new transactionally secure database format designed to protect preferences and user data, including bookmarks, cookies, and history, even in the event of a system crash.

Download Day 2008 is being coordinated by, and everyone — even those who have existing beta or RC implementations that will be updated without reinstalling — are encouraged to download within the next twenty-four hours in order to contribute to the world record attempt. Meanwhile, there is celebrating to do, with more than 600 Firefox Release parties planned all over the world. For those who can't get to a party in person, there's sure to be an online bash all day in Linux Journal's IRC channel on the freenode network.

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