Mozilla plots Web app store tools, updates Firefox

Mozilla has laid plans for building online stores for Web apps, though it doesn't plan to build a store itself. Also: new Firefox features and security fixes.

A mockup of a dashboard to manage Web applications through Mozilla's app store technology.
A mockup of a dashboard to manage Web applications through Mozilla's app store technology. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The scramble to release Firefox 4 in 2010 means it's a frenzied time for Mozilla, but there's more afoot at the organization than just building a browser.

Specifically, Mozilla is concerned about how people on the Web will find and pay for the increasingly sophisticated online applications made possible with modern Web browsers.

On Tuesday, Mozilla announced its labs project to develop "Open Web App Ecosystem" technology for finding, managing, and distributing Web apps.

"The open Web is a great platform for rich applications. It would be even better if it had additional capabilities to ease discovery, acquisition, installation and use of apps, while also enabling monetization for developers," Jay Sullivan, Mozilla's vice president of products, said in a blog post announcing the work.

It's clearly an answer to the Chrome Web Store, which Google is set to launch soon to support its Chrome OS software. But Mozilla's plan is indirect, providing others with app store tools rather than offering one itself.

"At this point in time, Mozilla has no intention to build our own store or distribute apps ourselves. We expect to see app stores develop, which will provide access to both free and paid Open Web Apps," Mozilla said in an FAQ.

Mozilla envisions several features for its technology. For one thing, it would enable discovery and payment for what it calls Open Web Apps--those built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript but not, for example, with Adobe Systems' Flash. For another, it would ensure that a paid app, once purchased, would run on any computer or browser the purchaser used.

App stores, like grocery stores, benefit from having a wide range of goods available, so it's likely that app stores will benefit from a large scale the way that Apple's iTunes and Amazon.com have. It remains to be seen who might be interested in picking up Mozilla's technology and running a large-scale app store based on it.

Of course, this work something of a sidelight to Mozilla's central project, Firefox. In that area, there's been a flurry of activity in the last two days.

On Tuesday, Mozilla released Firefox 3.6.11 to fix five critical security vulnerabilities and other problems. Also out is Firefox 3.5.14, which had its own share of holes. Firefox 3.6.11 is also available from CNET Download.com for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Meanwhile, the big effort is focused on Firefox 4, an update that brings faster JavaScript, a new user interface, and hardware acceleration to the open-source browser. The seventh beta, which has been in the works for weeks now, is the last opportunity to add new features, but its release awaits fixes relating to that new JavaScript engine, among other things.

Among the developments:

• A second phase of hardware-based acceleration is coming to newer Windows machines that support Microsoft's Direct3D 10 graphics interface for tapping into graphics processor power. The feature, which should improve performance by bypassing Direct3D 9 when it's not needed according to Mozilla meeting notes, is becoming enabled by default.

• Jetpack, the next-generation extensions framework for customizing Firefox, will get more exposure with its inclusion in Mozilla Central, the frequently updated code base out of which Firefox is built. Jetpack is still under development, with version 0.9 expected to be finished soon.

• The latest version of Mozilla's e-mail software, Thunderbird 3.1.5, has been released to fix security holes, too, for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Accompanying it was Thunderbird 3.0.9, which turns out to be the penultimate version of that incarnation. "Thunderbird 3.0.10 will be the last security and stability update for Thunderbird 3.0.x and will be made available later this year," Mozilla said in a blog post Tuesday. Thunderbird 3.0.0 arrived last December.

• Extension developers should know that after the release of Firefox 4, Mozilla is scrapping the built-in profile manager that's useful for testing with a variety of browser configurations. It's being replaced with a standalone profile manager software package. "This will be available as a separate download, and will include a lot of cool features not available in the current incarnation of Profile Manager, like the capability to back up and restore profiles," Mozilla programmer Jonathan Griffin said in a blog post Monday. (On a side note, the original request to remove the profile manager was filed in 2003 by Ben Goodger, who eventually left Mozilla and now leads user interface work for Google Chrome.)

 

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