Mozilla's Firefox 4 roadmap: faster, friendlier, more secure

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Firefox Director Mike Beltzner has presented his plan for Firefox 4, the next major update of Mozilla's browser. Guiding the development of the new version are the questions "Who uses Firefox?" and "What do they want from it?"

Firefox has grown popular among end users and Web developers alike. For end-users, the work will focus on streamlining the UI: simplifying the browser's interface, making it easier to control the permissions that different sites have, and providing better facilities to personalize and customize the browser.

Most strikingly, the new version of the browser is set to switch to an interface reminiscent of the one that Google pioneered with Chrome—tabs running along the top of the window, subsuming the window's title bar. Firefox is not the first browser to mimic Chrome in this way; Opera made a similar switch with version 10.50, and Apple toyed with the idea during betas of Safari 4.

For Web developers, Firefox 4 will expand and improve the browser's support for HTML5 technologies, including CSS3 for richer styling options as well as SMIL and CSS Transitions for animation. The new version will also include more powerful developer tools, used for debugging and analyzing pages.

Both the end-user and developer communities will benefit from underlying security and performance work. Just as Microsoft is doing with Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 4 will offer hardware-accelerated Direct2D rendering. This is already showing substantial performance benefits in Microsoft's browser, and is likely to yield a healthy performance boost to Firefox.

As is expected of new browser revisions, Firefox 4 will also include a faster JavaScript engine in the form of J├ĄgerMonkey, a new JavaScript engine that melds Firefox's existing TraceMonkey engine with Apple's Nitro Assembler (used in Safari). TraceMonkey excels at some scripts, but often has to fall back to its slower interpreter. The Nitro Assembler will be used to improve that baseline performance.

The presentation also laid out a preliminary delivery schedule. Though plastered with warnings that this was all subject to change, the plan is for a rapid beta program, starting in late June, leading up to a release candidate in October with a final version shortly thereafter. During the beta period, Mozilla is planning to make updates every two to three weeks.