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Mozilla Firefox 3.1 Beta 2 review

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Manufacturer: Mozilla

The inclusion of Private Browsing in Beta 2 suggests that the Mozilla Firefox 3.1 web browser will be a must-have for all Firefox fans.

The inclusion of Private Browsing in Beta 2 suggests that the Mozilla Firefox 3.1 web browser will be a must-have for all Firefox fans.

See also: Mozilla Firefox 5 review

Firefox 3.1 may only be a point release - from 3.0 to 3.1 - but Beta 2 is a good indication that the final release will be a must-have upgrade for Firefox users.

Firefox 3.1 Beta 2 (now available from Mozilla) unveils the browser's most important new feature, Private Browsing, a privacy feature that automatically deletes all traces of a browsing session. In addition, the new beta turns on a feature designed to make the browser up to 40 times faster (at least, according to Mozilla).

Firefox 3.0 video review

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Firefox 3.1: browsing in private

The most important new feature in Firefox 3.1 Beta 2 is the addition of Private Browsing - the same feature that is called Incognito Mode in Google Chrome, and InPrivate Browsing in Internet Explorer 8. All traces of your browsing session are deleted when you use Private Browsing - your browsing history, temporary internet files, search history, download history, web form history, and cookies. (For obvious reasons, it's popularly known as "porn mode".)

See also: Mozilla Firefox 3.0 review

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To launch a Private Browsing session in Firefox 3.1 Beta 2, choose Tools --> Private Browsing. When you do that, you'll get a warning that Firefox is going to close all of your current tabs to launch a Private Browsing session.

Select Start Private Browsing, and from then on, the history of your session won't be kept. The only indication that you're using Private Browsing are the words Private Browsing in the title bar of your browser. To exit Private Browsing and return to your normal session, select Tools and uncheck the mark next to Private Browsing. Your previous Firefox session will be restored - any tabs you had opened before you launched the Private Browsing session will open automatically open.

When using Private Browsing, you'll need to keep in mind that the feature doesn't quite erase all the traces of the browsing session. If you add a bookmark during a Private Browsing session, for example, that bookmark stays there, even when you exit Private Browsing and start Firefox 3.1 Beta 2 normally. The same holds with downloads - those stay on your hard disk. However, the download history of the session disappears.

The biggest problem with Private Browsing in Firefox 3.1 Beta 2 is that you won't be able to have a private browsing session at the same time you have a normal one, something that both Internet Explorer 8 and Chrome let you do. Let's say, for example, you're running one instance of Firefox, and want to also run a Private Browsing session. If you launch a second instance of the browser, then choose Tools --> Private Browsing, Firefox will allow only the Private Browsing instance to run - it shuts down the other instance.

NEXT PAGE: faster browsing and other tweaks

Computerworld.com

Mozilla Firefox 3.1 Expert Verdict »

Windows 2000/XP/Server 2003/Vista
Pentium 233MHz (Recommended: Pentium 500MHz or greater)
64MB RAM (Recommended: 128MB RAM or greater)
52MB hard drive space. Mac OS X 10.4 and later
Macintosh computer with an Intel x86 or PowerPC G3, G4, or G5 processor
128MB RAM (Recommended: 256MB RAM or greater)
200MB hard drive space

Beta 2 of Firefox 3.1 is fast and stable and incorporates two important changes to the browser: a Private Browsing mode, and a faster rendering engine. We used it without problems or crashes on two different PCs. Those who want to see the future of Firefox would do well to download it now. When the final version is released, it will be a must-have download.

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