It might be a few months late, but Mozilla has released the first beta of a new, improved version of Firefox. Firefox 3 beta 1 has improved security and can run rich web apps even when offline. It's available for download for Windows, Mac and Linux immediately.

Other new features include bookmark tagging. That's within a new element called Places that brings together browsing and bookmarks rather like IE7's Favourites Center. The Gecko web page rendering engine has also been much improved while there are also usability tweaks plus more support for Windows Vista, such as respecting its parental controls.

"Gecko 1.9 includes some major re-architecting for performance, stability, correctness, and code simplification and sustainability," says the browser's release notes. "Firefox 3 has been built on top of this new platform resulting in a more secure, easier to use, more personal product with a lot under the hood to offer website and Firefox add-on developers."

Delays, delays

The old password manager function has been replaced with a new interface that sits at the top of the page, similar to a pop-up blocking dialogue box.

The new beta was originally due back in the Summer when various alpha versions were actually released. The beta was delayed due to ongoing development work. That means the full release of the browser - originally slated for late this year - has now slipped to next.

The new browser will seek to improve on Mozilla's position in the browser market. Stats from the W3 organisation suggest Firefox now has as much as a 27 per cent share. Over 400 million downloads of Firefox have now been made.

Mozilla warns that the new browser is still in development, so should be used for testing only.