Mozilla announced the release of Firefox 3 alpha 2 this morning. The new release follows Mozilla??™s semi-regular 6 week test release pattern and in no way represents a finished product, but I decided to download the new alpha and see how things were coming along.
There are still major issues. I haven??™t had any stability problems, but there are bad memory leaks. Gran Paradiso, as Firefox 3 is code named, launches using about 33mb of RAM; after ten minutes of browsing that number jumped to 100mb and after a couple of hours it was close to 400mb ??” and that??™s with no extensions installed.
However, the main reason for the memory leaks, according to the release notes, is the new and improved garbage collection system which promises a much improved memory footprint once the bugs are ironed out. The release notes say:
In order to better handle memory issues, a new garbage collection system has been implemented. However, as the process of integrating Gecko into this system is still ongoing, there are some known leaks that result in large memory usage when the browser is used for a long period of time. A restart should resolve the problem, which will be fixed in Alpha 3.
While this alpha may have some memory leaks, I am happy to say that it uses much less CPU power than Firefox 2, especially when it??™s idle. One of my main gripes with Firefox 2 is that even when it??™s in the background doing nothing it still manages to consume 4-5 percent of my processing power, which seems unnecessary. However, when Gran Paradiso is sitting in the background unused its CPU usage drops to zero, which beats even Safari.
Gran Paradiso is the first release to use the new Gecko 1.9 rendering engine which means that Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows ME are no longer supported and Mac users will need OS X 10.3.9 or better.
This new release is the first from Mozilla to be totally Acid2 compliant. Gran Paradiso supports the new Cairo graphics layer which seems to render pages a bit faster but still has a few bugs.
Mac users are no doubt looking forward to Firefox 3??™s use of native Cocoa widgets which should make the browser feel more ???Mac-like.??? Perhaps I??™m misunderstanding what Cocoa widgets are, but in my testing UI elements like drop down lists and text fields still look the same as they always have in Firefox.
Overall Firefox 3 looks very promising and feels much faster than Firefox 2 (particularly on graphic heavy sites like Flickr). Alpha 2 marks yet another milestone on the way to the finished product, but it??™s still obviously only for testing. If you??™d like to help out the Firefox team by testing out the alpha 2 build they??™d love to hear your feedback.