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Firefox 4 Steps Out of the Shadows

By Katherine Noyes
May 11, 2010 11:33 AM PT

Speed, power and user control are Mozilla's top three goals for Firefox 4, according to early product plans released Monday.

Firefox 4 Steps Out of the Shadows

Specifically, the browser will be fast -- "super-duper fast," according to Firefox director Mike Beltzner -- while also enabling new open-standard Web technologies such as HTML5 and putting users in full control of their browser and Web experience.

"Usually, software producers don't present these sorts of plans in public until they're finalized, but Mozilla is a little different," Beltzner wrote in a post on his personal blog. "We work in the open, socializing our plans early and often to gather feedback and build excitement in our worldwide community."

'Fewer Pixels Between User and Content'

Beltzner also posted slides and video from a presentation he delivered Monday on the topic to the Mozilla community.

Firefox 3.7 was "motivated primarily by out-of-process plugins," Beltzner noted in his slides, adding that the version has now been renamed "Firefox 3.6.4."

Version 4, on the other hand, will likely include a simpler default theme with fewer user interface controls and "fewer pixels between user and content," he explained.

Jetpack-Based Add-Ons

As part of the performance optimizations to the software, version 4 will include no more modal dialogs or interruptions at startup, and updates will apply strictly in the background.

A switch-to-tab feature and dedicated application tabs will help speed navigation, Beltzner added.

Users will be able to install add-ons without restarting the system, and Jetpack-based add-ons will be running out of process.

64-Bit Support

For developers, meanwhile, Firefox 4 will likely offer bidirectionally connected apps, an HTML5 parser, a full-screen API, CSS3 compatibility, and faster 2-D drawing, Beltzner noted.

Also included in the plans are Firebug compatibility, a remote JavaScript debugger, the JagerMonkey JavaScript engine and 64-bit support, among other features.

Of course, "these plans are fluid and are likely to change," Beltzner stressed. "As with past releases, we use dates to set targets for milestones, and then we work together to track to those targets. We always judge each milestone release against our basic criteria of quality, performance and usability, and we only ship when it's ready."

Firefox accounted for 24.59 percent of the browser market worldwide in April, according to researcher Net Applications, surpassed only by Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which occupied 59.95 percent. Google's Chrome, in third place, claimed 6.73 percent.

'Focused on the Right Things'

"The Firefox developers seem to be focused on the right things: speed, openness, flexibility and user experience," Jay Lyman, an analyst for open source with the 451 Group, told TechNewsWorld. "This marks a rather dramatic change in open source software development that, over several years of evolution, has transformed the user from an afterthought to the forefront of development and innovation efforts."

Today's browser environment and market are also very different from what they were in earlier years, Lyman noted.

Now, "rather than mostly challenging Explorer and gaining share, Firefox is constantly competing with a number of others, including Explorer, Google's Chrome, Opera and Apple's Safari," he pointed out. "This competition is driving faster, more capable browsers, and it will be interesting to see how critical openness becomes."

'One to Watch'

Firefox 4 is "an important release for Mozilla," RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady told TechNewsWorld, "but the two areas of focus I'm most interested in are performance and HTML5."

Speed improvements "will be necessary for Firefox to remain competitive with Chrome, a project for which speed is the priority," O'Grady noted. "HTML5, meanwhile, is a key step towards Mozilla's broader mission and mandate of moving the open Web forward.

"For those two reasons alone," he concluded, "Firefox 4 is one to watch."

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