firefoxWordMarkVertical On the 30th June – and on schedule – Mozilla announced the latest release of its web browser, Firefox 3.5 and within the first 36 hours of the release it received over 6.5 million downloads , and on the whole it seems to be the most stable and polished make after the year-long development process.


According to Mozilla, they have supercharged the engine that runs Firefox. Firefox 3.5 allegedly is more than twice as fast as Firefox 3, and ten times as fast as Firefox 2!

I think I can agree with Mozilla in this regard. While I cannot back up these claims reliably in my environment, and where Chrome and Safari might still be marginally faster than Firefox (prior to Tuesday’s release), I definitely noticed a big speed boost on JavaScript-heavy sites like Gmail.

However Firefox 3.5 isn’t all about JavaScript. There have been plenty of changes in the latest version of Gecko, the rendering engine that is at the heart of Firefox. These enhancements speed up page load times and enable Firefox 3.5 to take advantage of the latest code being used to build the next generation of web applications. Even the university’s portal – guaranteed to make a grown man cry – is noticeably more snappy!





Pulling the Plug…in!…

Though it won’t be carved in stone for at least another year, the specification for HTML 5 – the next version of the HTML markup language used to build web pages – is already being implemented by the latest browsers. Firefox 3.5  is up to speed by supporting many of the capabilities afforded by HTML 5.

This HTML 5 support in Firefox 3.5 allows for embedded video and audio without the need for the Flash plug-in. Right now, most all video and audio playback on the web requires Adobe’s Flash Player. Mozilla has now built those capabilities right into the browser – no plug-in required! Now, website creators can place a video into a web page just as they would a photograph or any other graphic, and it will play smoothly in Firefox 3.5.

Search bar on steroids…

Have you heard about the “Smart Location Bar” – a Firefox 3.0 feature known informally as the Awesome Bar? The feature gives the browser’s address bar a mechanism for letting users quickly return to Web pages, without bookmarking them, even if they don’t remember the address. As you type, the tool searches for that text in the addresses and titles of pages that they’ve visited previously. It also can search tags – keywords that users associate with a particular page! No wonder they call it the Awesome Bar!

Awesomebar The new Firefox 3.5 has improved the Awesome Bar’s further by adding sophisticated wildcard search tools for power users. For example, typing an asterisk limits results to your bookmarks and typing a hash sign (#) limits results to page titles (rather than titles and URLs).

Performance in the Awesome Bar is also significantly improved, the occasional lag between when you start typing and when the first result shows up has been reduced to almost nil.

But there is a downside, the Awesome Bar uses places you have previously visited, so once you clear the cache all your other places are gone. If you are living in a multi-person household, they all get to see the places you go and the things you surf, some of which might not be that socially acceptable, depending on people’s sense of humor.

However I think this is also good for institutional networks like the university. How many times have people tried to navigate the corporate network looking for something, to find it, then immediately forget where it was located? The Awesome Bar can help solve that problem by keeping tabs on where you have been, in case you forget to bookmark the actual internal location.

This is a nice feature, and one that makes Firefox 3.5 something that is worth taking a look at, and seeing if it will work for you!

Covering your Privates…

Pardon the pun of the heading above but I couldn’t resist this! Firefox 3.5 brings a much more robust private browsing mode that restricts the information your browser gathers as you visit websites. While surfing in private browsing mode, cookies are rejected, URLs are kept out of the browser history, forms are not auto-filled and pages are not cached. The result is a browser session that – from the browser’s point of view – never happened.

This is a sign that Firefox is taking a cue from the competition. Chrome, IE8 and Safari all have this feature! Although often referred to as “porn mode,” the privacy settings are actually very useful on public PCs, like those in internet cafes or computer lab like GERGA. As long as the PC is running a browser that has a private mode, you don’t need to worry about covering your tracks after the fact, and I am sure it has advantages in for large groups of students writing e-Exams on lab computers!

So now what is the “but at a price…” referred to in the title of this posting?

Tonight I was visiting one of my favorite sites and  when I clicked on a particular page …boom! Firefox just disappeared – a spectacular crash! But then one of the new – but unsung – features appeared; the much-improved crash recovery system. Rather than a simple “restore/don’t restore” dialog, Firefox 3.5 will allow you selectively choose which windows and tabs to restore after a crash.

Mozilla has already announced a patch for Firefox 3.5 in the next few weeks to stamp out several bugs that went unfixed in the final version of the browser.

Firefox 3.5.1, which Mozilla intends to deliver in mid-to-late July, will include fixes for at least three bugs and "topcrashes," the term the company uses to describe the frequently-reported crashes. Like many applications, Firefox asks users to report crashes by displaying a prompt after the browser goes down.

One of the topcrashes scheduled for a fix involves TraceMonkey, the new, faster JavaScript engine that debuted in Firefox 3.5. At least one of the bugs was fixed a week before Mozilla released the final code on Tuesday.

When all is said and done…

Overall, the latest upgrade to Firefox is definitely worthwhile and filled with improvements that pleased me. With its new features, speed increases for web applications, and support for standards, 3.5 represents a major upgrade, not a minor release.

Firefox continues to dominate the other "alternative" web browsers at 22.5% market share compared to Safari’s 8.43%, Chrome’s 1.80%, and others who haven’t even reached 1.0% yet.

When all is said and done, Firefox is still the one to beat when it comes to Internet Explorer alternatives. I like the 3.5 release. Well worth the download!

David Wiles

Filed Under (e-Learning) by David Wiles on 03-07-2009

The annual “PC Skills” is an assessment that all 1st year health science students complete during orientation and has provided lectures and training personnel at Tygerberg with concrete data to measure the computer literacy levels of the new students.

GERGA in association is looking at improving the current assessment environment and “testing via simulation” has been suggested as a possible way forward.

In theory an assessment environment that simulates common software applications is an ideal and logical method to investigate a student’s abilities with various computer applications.

Assessments that utilize only one brand or model of software would be severely limited, as there is no standard for any common software applications, such as word processors, spreadsheets, or databases. However is cleverly designed and presented, the broader principles and processes (flowchart) that apply to all applications common to a particular need (like word processing) can be used.

Bytes People in Johannesburg have provided a link to a new simulation-based assessment that they are building using the Questionmark Perception software and Adobe Captivate. This course content is being developed for the University of Pretoria.

Flash Simulation

Login details:

Username: Test

Password: password

We are all very excited about what is possible with Questionmark Perception for creating simulations. Take a look…

David Wiles