Sandboxing Firefox 3 Beta and first impressions

The Firefox 3 Beta 1 (download) was finally launched this week, and from what I’ve been reading, it promises better memory usage along with interface tweaks. So, I decided to give it a spin. There were some basic concerns of course, like conflicts with my existing Firefox 2 setup, incompatible extensions and general instability/performance issues.

However, there’s also an easy way to overcome this problem using sandboxing software like Sandboxie and Altiris SVS (lifehacker article on using SVS). I had installed Sandboxie sometime back after reading about it in a few places. It is quite simple to use – you just need to launch the desired program using the Sandboxie tool. I went ahead and got the Firefox 3 beta and ran the installer in the sandbox. The thing to note about the sandboxing is that though the installation is in a sandbox, the Firefox settings (including extensions) from my version 2 installation would be used, but in a read-only fashion, so that compatible extensions can be used as on a regular upgrade, bookmarks are carried over, and so is the session restoring.

Anyway, the beta installed without any glitches. Then, on launching the browser, it notified me of a bunch of incompatible extensions (as suspected) – greasemonkey, mouse gestures, bookmarks, downthemall, tab mix plus to name a few. So much for hoping to use Firefox 3 beta as a version 2 replacement.

The interface tweaks were seemingly minor, but did make a difference. For one thing the toolbar paddings seems to have been reduced, which gives it a cleaner look. Then there’s the star in the address bar for quickly marking sites along with the places folder in the bookmarks toolbar which lists the recently and frequently accessed sites, tags etc. The bookmarking process has also been overhauled, with support for tags along with with a modified organizing interface. All in all, the interface tweaks are quite nice, without any drastic changes.

Coming to the performance, the memory usage did seem to be lower than version 2, especially after leaving it running for some time. In version 2, the memory usage gradually increases with time and number of opened tabs. This aspect seems to be a lot more efficient in version 3, in the beta itself. The interface also seemed snappier when switching between tabs, and opening new ones. Of course part of this could also be due to the fact that almost a dozen extensions were disabled in the beta due to incompatibilities. But, it seems we have something to look forward to on this front.

I have been seriously considering the switch to Flock (which is based on Firefox 2, and is compatible with many of the Firefox extensions) for the last few weeks after being bogged down by the version 2 performance. Firefox 3 seems to hold some hope on the performance front in addition to other improvements, and should be a welcome upgrade from version 2. However, I won’t be switching till the extension compatibilities are sorted out (if not for the extensions, I would’ve been on Opera). What about you?

Update: Found a couple of reviews on Ars Technica and ZDNet, plus a memory usage comparison