Firefox 4 the Future: what's going on at Mozilla & Co?

Development of Mozilla Firefox 4 has been excruciatingly slow from an outside perspective.
However this is because the last Beta version, 8, is the so-called “feature-freeze” after which no new features can be introduced and the product enters a bug-fixing and performance improvement stage.

Why the delays? Some ideas:

  • ·    There was an internal Beta 7, but so far it has not been released to the public and it may never see the daylight, probably because it harbours serious bugs (54 according to the team’s meeting notes)
  • ·    The Mozilla team has been dedicating too many resources to Firefox for the Android OS (beta 1 released just a few days ago, beta 2 due on Oct 19th) and adding the Bing search-engine as an option.
  • ·    Beta 7 alone is supposed to fix over 60 bugs according to sources close to the company, some of which were never made public and fixed on-the-fly.
  • ·    Beta 8 introduces true 64-bit support and graphics acceleration on par with IE9 beta, i.e. finally making use of Direct2D and OpenGL to speed up the browsing experience in terms of rendering.
  • ·    Post-summer slacking has set in at Mozilla central (less likely than above).

What to expect from FF4:
Windows users (and probably also Mac users) will experience noticeable changes in speed while browsing graphics-intensive websites and especially upgrades to functionality that should facilitate the 3D, social and interactive web experience some are calling Web 3.0.

Some people report negative changes in speed do to increased functionality however, so don’t hold your horses just yet on that — this PC still takes over 20 seconds to boot Windows 7, even though instant-on has theoretically been available for years (i.e. by loading the operating system on ROM or RAM and not on slow hard drives). Changes under-the-hood also include updates to CSS3 and HTML5 support, improved crash protection and multitouch support.

Interface changes include sychronization with mobile devices, improvements in tabbed browsing, a new add-on system.

Firefox 4 (alongside the coming IE9) underscores 5 dramatic trends in browsing, demonstrating the direction of content and functionality on cyberspace.

 The Five Senses: browsers have begun implementing true HTML5 multimedia support, including the ability to directly stream audio and video, improving support for new compressed image formats and animation. Someday soon we will “smell” a website too and “feel” it with our hands (haptics); expect APIs and human-interface devices for this to surface around 2016, hitting the mass market around 2020.

·    One Size fits all: extensions are becoming increasingly popular that improve support for social applications like Twitter, but also to do almost anything with your browser; this development is similar to the market for iPhone apps.
·    The Browser-Takeover Browsers are becoming more and more like an OS, especially Google Chrome. Thus upgrading them will be ever more critical to universities and cutting-edge companies, and eventually, a must for nearly everyone.
·    Growing Power of WOM: The voice of the web is becoming increasingly important: consider how many people bashed IE5,6,7 and 8 on forums and blogs and in the press and how Microsoft finally gave in to popular demand, creating IE 9 (after losing nearly half of the browser market to Firefox).
·    Choice & Interconnectivity: you can select your browser’s skin. Remember the good old Winamp-Player for mp3s? You can get customized browsers and operating systems for your mobile phone phone, ipod touch, subnotebook or ipad. Expect operating systems to enter everything from your car, to your chair and coffee cup. No joke. Choice means increasing complexity however, so get ready to learn new things. And did you know that you can close your NYC apartment’s window-shade from your parents’ laptop using the internet?

The future is bright for cyberspace, but in the next weeks, we hope Mozilla gets its act together and releases Beta 8 of Firefox 4 soon so that we can get a release candidate or even final version for Xmas (or whatever people celebrate this winter).

Please feel free to comment on what direction you think browsers and the web are headed and what you wish to see for future releases of Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera and IE.