Last night, Mozilla released the first public beta version of Firefox 3. You can grab version 3.01b from the beta download site. According to Mozilla, the new release has fixed over 11,000 bugs as well as made the move to the new Gecko 1.9 rendering engine.

My first impression of Firefox 3 Beta was, "This doesn't seem very different." After playing with a while, though, I started to notice a few changes -- mainly for the better. First on that list, Firefox 3 is fast. The release notes cite "major architectural changes" that have increased speed, and promise things will only get faster with each beta.

Pages definitely loaded much faster in 3.01b than they do in the current non-beta release of Firefox (2.0.0.9), to the point where I was actually surprised when some often slow-loading pages jumped right up. For me, the improved speed is probably the most noticeable change while using Firefox 3 for regular web browsing, and is certainly a welcome one. Other changes that caught my eye include the rewritten download manager that lets you resume downloads (hooray!), integration with anti-virus software and built in malware detection, the ability to save tabs when restarting the browser (no need to force quit to do that anymore), single click bookmarking, and a simplified password manager.

Unfortunately, one issue that still exists in Firefox is memory leaks. According to the release notes, developers plugged "over 300 individual memory leaks," but still after just a few minutes of browsing with just 8 or so tabs open, Firefox was using over 150mb of RAM -- and I often have 20 or 30 tabs open while writing and researching stories. Duncan Riley at TechCrunch noticed the same thing.

In the end, I've switched back to Firefox 2.0.0.9 because none of the plugins I use on a regular basis work yet in Firefox 3. Eventually, though, the faster page loading and file download resuming will make the switch worthwhile. Here's hoping they fix those memory issues while they're at it. There is much more on Firefox 3 Beta on Techmeme.