[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.]
In Firefox 2 browser history was saved, by default, for nine days. I’m not really sure where that number came from (Why 9? Why not 7 or 10?), but I never found it to be a big deal. All I ever got out of history were links drawn a different color if I had visited them recently, and I don’t recall thinking about, never mind going through the process of, increasing the number of days my history was saved. I rarely looked at it, and never really cared about it much one way or another.
All of this has changed in Firefox 3. Browser history is now incredibly, phenomenally, astonishingly useful.
Smart Location Bar
The primary value of history is now as a key source of data for the Smart Location Bar (affectionately nicknamed the “Awesomebar”) which I talked about in an earlier post, “Awesome bar is awesome“. The Smart Location Bar, in my opinion, is one of the game-changing new features in Firefox 3. Check out my other post for more details, or watch Mike Beltzner demo it (along with a handful of other new Firefox features) in this short screencast.
In addition to the Smart Location Bar, Firefox 3 History has been upgraded and made much more useful in a number of other ways.
The History sidebar has been updated to match the new look and feel of Firefox 3, taking full advantage of the favicon storage that is part of the new Places back-end technology. You can still search history via the History sidebar, or sort entries by Date + Site, Date, Site, Most Visited, and Last Visited. The entries are much easier to scan and identify, however, because they now display the site’s favicon (a small identifying graphical icon) where those are available.
Favicons are also used in the History menu, making it easier to identify items of interest in both lists of currently open and recently closed tabs.
Most significant, however, is the inclusion of History in the new Firefox Library. The Library is the renamed and expanded Bookmark Organizer, fully revamped for Firefox 3. You open the History section of the Library by going to the History menu, selecting “Show all History”, then clicking on the “History” entry in the top of the left sidebar.
You can do all kinds of stuff in the History Library. You can search all the available entry data with one or more words, and also save your search as a smart folder.
You can view and sort history entries by Name, Tags, Location, Visit Date, Visit Count, Keyword, Description, Added date, or Last Modified date.
You can even tag history entries right in the Library, effectively bookmarking them and adding them to the full bookmarking system.
If you’re not sure whether you’ve already used a tag or not, you can expand the UI to show a full list of all the tags you’ve already used in your bookmarks, and just check off the ones you want to use for the item being tagged.
Once bookmarked, you can add Keywords and a Description right in the Library interface.
Taking advantage of the new and much more efficient Places back-end, the default number of days to save history data has been increased from nine to 90.
I used to clear my browser history as a matter of course, not really caring about that information, and I would create new Firefox profiles all willy-nilly, happy enough to just import my bookmarks and start fresh. With Firefox 3, however, my browser History is suddenly extremely valuable, and incredibly useful in a variety of ways. Clearing history or starting a new profile is now remarkably painful, and not something to be done lightly.
This collection of private, locally-stored, personal, and searchable data has changed how I use the Web, and I can’t imagine ever going back to the old way of doing things. I’ve gone so far as to increase my history storage to a full year. It’s absolutely worth it.
If you want to learn more about the new Places back-end and how to develop add-ons for it, start by reading the Places documentation at the Mozilla Developer Center.