Firefox 3.1 hits first beta

New JavaScript engine makes its debut as Mozilla launches first beta of Firefox 3.1

Mozilla has launched the first beta version of Firefox 3.1.

The big newcomer is the TraceMonkey JavaScript engine, which Mozilla hopes will match or even surpass the performance of Google's recently released Chrome browser.

TraceMonkey isn't turned on by default in this beta release, however. Testers who want to experiment with it must use the "about:config" menu and set "javascript.options.jit.content" to True.

The fact that Mozilla isn't confident enough to turn on TraceMonkey by default suggests we'll see at least another beta before the release of Firefox 3.1 - as does Mozilla's developer notes. "This is an early beta, of course, so there will be issues," the notes read. "Please file bugs if you find sites that don't work or cause crashes or hangs. The more testing we get, the better it will be when we turn it on."

Another new addition to the first beta is the Geolocation feature that allows the browser to pinpoint your location. Just last week, Mozilla Labs released a Firefox extension called Geode that could track your location using local Wi-Fi signals.

The new feature goes a step further. "The Geolocation API in Firefox 3.1 exposes a single API to web developers, but can potentially be backed by a number of different location sources," the developer notes claim.

"Examples include the Skyhook service [used in Geode], which guesses your location based on nearby access points, a GPS device in your mobile computer or hand-setting a fixed location where your desktop lives."

Other previously announced enhancements included in the 3.1 beta include support for the CSS @font-face property that allows web developers to specify true-type fonts when the page is rendered. There's also support for the new HTML video and audio standards, which will "get video out of the plugin prison and let it interact with the rest of the content on pages," according to Mozilla.

You can download Firefox 3.1 beta 1 here.

Buy the new issue of PC Pro, on sale tomorrow, to read the complete guide to Google Chrome and find out how it compares to Firefox 3.

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