File Under: Browsers

Firefox 3.6 Delayed, Mozilla Adjusts Road Map for Browser’s Future

It’s looking like Firefox 3.6 will miss its 2009 release goal, but the browser should arrive shortly after the start of the new year.

Firefox 3.6, currently in the final beta-release stages, will arrive in the first quarter of 2010, according to Mozilla Wiki. The slight delay is having a ripple effect, however, because future Firefox releases have been rescheduled as well. Mozilla has already pushed back its road map for both Firefox 3.7 and 4.0.

Once Firefox 3.6 is out the door, Firefox 3.7 (a fairly minor, incremental release) shouldn’t be too far behind, but we may have to wait until 2011 before the next major revision roles around. According to recent Mozilla meeting notes, Firefox 4.0 won’t come around until late 2010 or early 2011.

Despite the distant release dates, Mozilla is already hard at work on both Firefox 3.7 and 4.0. Judging by the current schedule, Firefox 3.7 will bring a few updates and possibly a slightly tweaked theme, but we’ll have to wait for 4.0 before we see any big changes and new features.

So what can you expect in Firefox 4.0 when it finally does arrive? Well, on the new features side of things, most of the answers lie in Mozilla Labs. JetPack, which was recently updated to version 0.7, is on the short list, as is Weave, a tool that syncs your Firefox installations across PCs. There’s even a chance that some elements of Ubiquity, the “command-line for the web,” might be integrated into the Firefox 4.0 Awesomebar.

Under the hood, Firefox 4.0 will feature an update to the Gecko rendering engine, with more HTML5 and CSS 3 support as well as speed improvements. One major goal is to reduce startup times by 25 percent.

But the biggest change will likely be the introduction of Electrolysis.

Electrolysis is the name of a Mozilla project that will split Firefox into multiple processes — one for the user interface, one for plug-ins and one for each tab. Similar functionality is already being seen in other clients, like Google Chrome. As in Chrome, a crash in a single tab will no longer be able to bring down the entire browser. Also, we can expect Electrolysis to make Firefox faster and more stable overall.

Firefox 4.0 will also likely feature a revamped look, possibly with a Chrome-like “tabs on top” user interface and a new, more feature-rich “home tab.” If you’d like to have a say in the look and feel of future Firefox release, check out the current Mozilla design challenge.

The addition of some Chrome-like features is no coincidence. Chrome’s arrival and its subsequent innovations have accelerated developments in the browser market. All the attention being paid to the younger browser puts Mozilla in danger of losing some of the user base it has worked so hard to capture over the last five years. The potential 2011 release date of Firefox 4.0 means that before that next big Firefox upgrade arrives, there will likely be a significant update to Google Chrome, a new version of Safari and possibly even a release of Internet Explorer 9.

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