Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's Director of Firefox, detailed the organizations' plans for the next generation of the popular browser in a presentation on Air Mozilla earlier today. The overall mission for Firefox 4, as Beltzner pointed out, is that Firefox 4 should be "fast, friendly and empowering."Mozilla wants Firefox 4 to adjust to what users are doing on the Web by giving them better means to interact with others and to create online content. Mozilla also wants to give its users more control over their relationships with individual websites. Mozilla plans to release Firefox 4 by the end of this year.
Mozilla wants to ship Firefox 4 by November 2010. If Mozilla's plans work out, the first beta of Firefox 4 should be available by the end of June. This beta phase will last for multiple months and Mozilla plans to roll out a new beta every couple of weeks. These betas might also feature the Test Pilot add-on by default, which will allow Mozilla to gather better feedback from its beta users.
Obviously, all of Mozilla's plans for Firefox 4 are still subject to change and the developers will likely add and subtract features as the development process gets under way.
Speeding up the Browser
Firefox 4 will feature a renewed emphasis on speed. Current projects like JägerMonkey will form the basis of these projects to make Firefox faster. As Beltzner noted, it's also worth remembering that current versions of Firefox were built for computers and operating systems that were shipped many years ago. To speed up the browser and enhance the user interface, Mozilla wants the next version of Firefox to support hardware acceleration and offer built-in support for multi-touch and technologies like Aero Peek in Windows 7. Mozilla plans to ship 64-bit versions of the browser for Windows 7 and OSX.
Making Firefox faster doesn't just mean optimizing the performance of the browser itself, however, but also enhancing the user experience to make the browser feel faster. This, for example, means that Firefox 4 will get a new, sleeker user interface that will feel a lot faster. Mozilla, for example, plans to get rid of modal controls that currently block users from working with the browser unless they acknowledge the dialog. Judging from the screenshots we saw today, the new design will make Firefox 4 look a lot like Chrome.
Note: You can find more mockups of Mozilla's plans for the Firefox 4 interface here.
Using the Browser to Manage Your Relationship with Websites
As Belztner noted, websites are now becoming more like desktop apps and it's becoming increasingly important that users understand what web services do with their data. Mozilla wants to create a way to manage website's permissions with a simple but powerful control dialog. The new account manager that Mozilla first introduced a few weeks ago is one of the organization's steps towards this direction. The permissions manager, for example, will allow you to manage which sites can get access to your location data.
Mozilla also plans to improve how users can customize their browsers. In Firefox 4, users will be able to install add-ons without having to restart the browser, for example. The browser will also feature a new customizations interface and Mozilla plans to make it easier to discover and find relevant add-ons.
Firefox 4 for Developers
Mozilla also plans a number of updates for developers that will give Firefox 4 better native multimedia capabilities, better developer tools and support for new HTML5 and Web technologies. Firefox 4, for example, will add a lot of rich HTML5 capacities to the browser, as well as support for 3D capabilities, a fullscreen API, faster 2D drawing and an animation API. Firefox 4 will also include a number of updated developer tools like a timer API to test website performance and better memory diagnostic tools.
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