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Mozilla Aims for Sleeker Firefox 4.0

Central to the faster browser concept, users will enjoy dedicated application tabs and be able to install add-ons without having to restart the browser.


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Hoping to out-do or at least keep up with the blazing speed of Google's Chrome browser, Mozilla is prepping Firefox 4.0 to be "super-duper-fast," noted Firefox director Mike Beltzner in his live webcast to the Mozilla community last week.

The primary goal of Firefox 4.0 is to develop a technology base that is fast, secure, and optimized, said Beltzner.

[login] "For users, we want to build a product that is fast, friendly, and empowering. For developers, we want to give them tools for capable, fast Web access," he said.



Beltzner said Mozilla aims to deliver a sleeker and simpler user interface as the default, performance optimizations, and faster navigation. Central to the faster browser concept, users will enjoy dedicated application tabs, and be able to install add-ons without having to restart the browser. Firefox will also include new tools for backing up and sharing data.

Benefits of Firefox 4.0 for Developers

To improve the lot of developers, Mozilla plans to add bi-directionally connected apps through WebSockets, smoother "AJAX-y" interactions with PushState, easier layout and styling with CSS3, an HTML5 parser, and multi-touch support.

"Mozilla's new browser looks like a very impressive package that will add more web technologies for developers," said Brian Montgomery, senior developer, EXM Media, a web development company in Orange, California. "My only caveat is that Mozilla has made no mention of updating Gecko (Mozilla's layout engine)."

"Most of the new features Mozilla plans to impart to Firefox 4.0 are available already, perhaps in beta or experimental form, either in Firefox itself, or in other browsers," said Robin Bate Boerop, a developer at Collabora.

Nonetheless, Boerop said, the Firefox 4.0 feature set is quite significant as it will raise the bar for what browsers, collectively, should support.

"It will give web developers a better target platform," said Boerop.

Plenty of New Tools

Mozilla is also exploring new development tools, including a developer console for easily examining the workings of Javascript applications, and a 'web inspector' for providing snapshots of a website's underlying code, so developers can make changes quickly.

Under the hood, Firefox 4.0 will include JaegerMonkey, a new extension to Mozilla's Javascript engine that operates alongside TraceMonkey to accelerate the interpretation of code unsuited to "tracing."

Firefox 4.0 will come with Jetpack, a new add-on development platform designed to simplify the creation of add-ons and improve compatibility with the browser.

Competition from Chrome

One thing is sure: Mozilla needs to find a way to regain the momentum it has lost in the browser market over the past year.

Google's Chrome growth in the global browser market has been outpacing all its rivals for the past several months, according to data from researcher Net Applications.

Chrome's market share in April was 6.7 percent, about five percentage points higher than it was a year ago, reports the researcher.

Moreover, Google Chrome has been the major beneficiary of Microsoft's slide over the past 12 months, a role that Firefox used to enjoy.

Internet Explorer's global market share hit a 12-month low of 59.95 percent at the end of this April, with Chrome gobbling most of Microsoft's percentage slide. Meanwhile, Mozilla's share of the browser market this April was 23.8 percent, up only slightly from a year ago, according to Net Applications.

Mozilla aims to have a beta of Firefox 4 available next month and a final release by October. However, those dates are likely to change, cautioned Beltzner.


   
Herman Mehling has written about IT for 25 years. He has written hundreds of articles for leading computer publications and websites.
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