The new Beta release of Firefox 3.0 is drawing glowing reviews, is shaping up by some's estimates to be an "IE slayer"

With months left for Mozilla to fulfill its promise of releasing Firefox 3.0 to the public in the first half of 2008, the company just launched its third beta candidate of the browser, leaving only one beta left.  This indicates that Mozilla is well on its way to meeting its intend release timeframe.  And if initial reviews of Firefox 3.0 beta 3 are to believed, Mozilla might be able to release the browser today with little worries if it had too.

While Mozilla obviously will take its time, and stick to perfecting the fourth beta candidate, the third beta looks much more like a finished candidate than its prior brethren.  The first beta focused on speed and leanness, and surprised testers with visibly faster page loads than the current generation Mozilla, Opera, Apple, and Microsoft browsers.  The next beta maintained this new speed while beefing up security with a number of key improvements and some minor user interface modifications.

Now the third beta has delivered substantial user interface changes, which for the most part seem to make browsing a much more comfortable experience.  The new bookmark tool built into the URL bar has been tweaked to be much more intuitive.  A number of graphical changes have also occurred among these is a new "keyhole look" for the backward and forward button, in which a large circular backward button rests snugly beside a smaller curved forward button.  The two separate navigation dropdowns for the buttons, which appeared in all previous versions of mozilla have been fused into a single drop down, offering a full history.

The new beta also adopts default themes equally well from Windows and Linux, helping it to blend seamlessly with your desktop environment.  In Linux the build can take GTK Themes, Tango styles, or GNOME icons, with equivalent ease.  The integration is reported to be so good that the browser literally looks like GNOME application, which will be pleasing to some Linux users.  Mac users can also cheer as OS X themes are finally included.  Further, for Mac users support for native widgets in forms is also implemented, opening up many new possibilities.

The tabbing interface now allows you to drag and drop tabs between windows, a seemingly natural, but until now unsupported, feature.  The status bar also has an added download indicator, which gives you a quick visual update on your downloads.  Further the URL autocompletion algorithm has been significantly improved, allowing smarter searches that help you go back to pages you frequently visit, quicker.

A key new feature is the inclusion of a built in add-on manager.  Add-ins have been part of whats fueled the popularity of Firefox, as they can add extra functionality for everything from ad-blocking to RSS feeds.  Now users can use this built in manager to search, find, and install add-ons without ever going to the add-on page again (previously users had to navigate to a page on Mozilla's website).

While Microsoft plans on revealing key features of its new Internet Explorer 8 browser at its MIX conference in March, the browser is still a long ways away from its "late 2008" release date.  By the looks of Firefox 3.0 beta 3, those months stretching between the final release of Firefox 3.0 and the release of Internet Explorer 8 may be particularly long and painful for Microsoft's IE team, as they are forced to play spectator as Mozilla offers up a greatly improved browser.

Mozilla's third beta is available here for those eager to give it a test drive.

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