[I use a Mac, so all the images in this post are of the Mac user interface. The UI for other platforms will differ slightly. Click on pictures to view other sizes.]
While Firefox 3 includes lots of new features and big shiny changes, it also includes a pile of more subtle, but no less important, changes and improvements. One area that has been revisited (rather than totally redesigned) is Firefox’s password management facility.
In Firefox 2, password management is a bit of a struggle. When you enter a password on a page you are asked whether you want Firefox to remember that password or not. The problem with this particular dialog is twofold: first, it appears before the login is complete so you have no way of knowing whether you have actually entered the correct password; second, it is modal, blocking any other browser actions, so there is no way to verify that the password works without first dismissing the dialog box. It’s a good feature, it’s just sort of poorly designed.
The actual Firefox 2 password manager is also a bit rough around the edges. You can only view the full list of all sites for which there are stored passwords, sorted alphabetically by URL or login name. There is no way to filter or search the list, so to find an old stored password, you have to either remember the URL and scroll down to the item in the list or scan through the full list manually. I have hundreds of passwords, so as you can imagine it’s all a bit of a pain.
Firefox 3 fixes all of this, and the new password management features are significantly improved and much, much more thoughtfully designed.
The dialog box asking whether you would like Firefox to save a password has been replaced entirely. Now, instead of popping up a modal dialog before the login has succeeded, Firefox 3 presents the option to store a given password using an information bar that slides down from the top of the screen after you have logged in. This allows you to verify that the password is correct before asking Firefox 3 to store that password.
The information bar is non-modal as well, so you can continue using the Web as normal without being forced to dismiss it first. In fact, the information bar will continue to hang around so long as you’re on that login’s site or manually dismiss it. When you leave the site, the information bar will automatically disappear. Not to worry, however, because if you return to the site and login again, the information bar will reappear.
Additionally, the password manager has filtering and searching capabilities, making it significantly easier to find and deal with passwords for certain sites. For example, here I’m filtering the list so it displays only those sites that include “mozilla.org” as part of the domain:
Other password-related features are more or less the same in Firefox 3, including creating and using a master password (which you should all do, really), displaying stored passwords, and so forth. The changes are relatively subtle, but if you’re like me and have hundreds of stored passwords these small changes can make a huge, huge difference over all.
Other posts I’ve written about Firefox 3