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New Beta Release Gives Firefox a Shot of Jäger

A new beta version of the next Firefox browser has arrived.

Mozilla released Firefox 4 Beta 7 on Wednesday. Unlike the last couple beta releases which mostly just tidied things up, this release is a substantial step forward. Most notably, it includes a new JavaScript engine called JägerMonkey that give the browser a performance boost on script-heavy sites.

It has better support for web graphics and fonts, and it has been deemed complete enough for add-on developers to begin porting over their creations from older versions of Firefox.

If you’re a beta tester already, you’ll see an automatic update today or Thursday. If you’d like to download beta 7 for Windows, Mac or Linux, you can do so from Mozilla’s beta site.

Wednesday’s release comes on the heels of the recent announcement that Firefox 4 won’t be ready until early 2011. Mozilla’s release dates have always been somewhat loose, but the last update was over a month and a half ago, and we were originally expecting the browser to arrive some time between October or January. Now, it looks like Firefox 4′s release date could stretch out as far as the second quarter of next year. It’s a blow to fans of the open source browser, especially since Firefox is seeing increased competition from Chrome, which shifted to an accelerated release schedule earlier this year, and from Internet Explorer 9, which entered a public beta phase in September.

The silver lining here is that it’s looking like Firefox 4 will be much different than 3.6, the current version, and that the update will be worth the wait. Also, the beta releases have been remarkably stable, and, with very few exceptions, are capable enough for every day use.

For the full list of what’s new, check out the release notes. Here’s what has us the most excited.

The enhancement sure to make the biggest splash is Firefox’s new JägerMonkey just-in-time JavaScript compiler. Complicated, JavaScript-heavy sites like Facebook and web apps like Gmail will be more nimble, and you should see a big speed increase on games and demos that previously only impressed those running Chrome or Safari. JägerMonkey is new code that works in tandem with the same TraceMonkey JavaScript code that powered previous versions of Firefox (love the naming convention, by the way) and you can read more about the change on Mozilla engineer David Mandelin’s blog.

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