Firefox 4, the latest incarnation of Mozilla’s popular web browser, will arrive in final form on Tuesday, March 22. While the final release is good news for Firefox fans, it comes over three months after the initial Firefox 4 release date.
Firefox 4 isn’t the first release to miss its shipping goal, in fact the previous two versions arrived somewhat late as well. To help change that in the future, Mozilla has announced an ambitious plan to revamp Firefox’s development process. Not only will new features arrive faster under this development model, but Mozilla plans to release no less than three major updates this year alone.
The plan is still in the early stages and may change as kinks are worked out, but it currently looks a lot like Google’s development cycle for the Chrome web browser. Like Chrome, Firefox will have several channels, all working simultaneously toward regular releases. A feature will start in what Mozilla is calling the “mozilla-central” channel (nightly builds) and then progress through an experimental channel and a beta channel before arriving in final form. In total each new feature will progress through a 16-week development cycle. Should something break as a feature moves toward the final release, it can be disabled at any point.
Although Chrome helped popularize this development method, it’s also similar to what the W3C is using to add new API features to HTML5 (albeit on a much longer time scale), and it’s how many web-based software projects have long functioned.
Mozilla’s plan also includes something that isn’t easy for Chrome users to do — skip automatic updates. If you subscribe to, for example, the Firefox beta channel, but don’t want to download the latest update, you’ll be able to skip it by disabling the auto-update function.
While Mozilla’s revamped development cycle is still in the early planning stages, it looks to be a big win for both the company and Firefox users. The new development model will help Mozilla push out new features on a more regular basis, without waiting for everything else to be complete as well, and, hopefully, end the frequent delays in Firefox release schedules.