Mozilla releases first beta of Firefox 3.6

The "Namoroka" beta brings performance improvements, Personas, and several abilities Web developers should notice. With it, Mozilla is trying to move faster.

Those keen to try out Mozilla's latest browser--and its new process to update the software more frequently --now can try Firefox 3.6 beta 1 for Windows, Mac, or Linux.

Among the features in the new version, according to Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's director of Firefox, and Mozilla evangelist Chris Blizzard:

• Personas, which lets people customize the browser appearance. Personas has been available as an add-on, so there are plenty of Personas skins to choose from.

• Faster execution of Web-based JavaScript programs, better browser responsiveness, and faster startup time. Mozilla has been working on JavaScript performance for many months, but the urgency of that and other performance improvements increased with the arrival of Google's Chrome browser.

• The ability to drag and drop files from the computer to the browser. This is useful for uploading files to Web sites, as will a feature not in the beta but planned for the final version, support for the multiple-file input tag so more than one file can be added in Web forms.

• Expanded support for geolocation technology so it can provide a Web site with an approximate physical address of the user, not just latitude-longitude coordinates.

• The ability to detect the computer's orientation for machines that offer accelerometer support.

• Video built into Web pages with the HTML5 "video" tag now can be viewed full-screen.

Mozilla also released a full list of Firefox changes developers should know about with more details.

Firefox is at the vanguard of the second generation of browser wars. Although it competes with Google's Chrome, Apple's Safari, and Opera, all those browsers are also allied in a way against Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which though dominant is relatively slow at some tasks and only now complying more fully with Web page standards of yesteryear. The rivals, meanwhile, are pushing ahead with new features in HTML5 in development right now.

Mozilla released the alpha version of Firefox 3.6 , code-named Namoroka, in August.

The organization plans to release the final version by the end of the year, with Firefox 3.7 in the first half of 2010 and Firefox 4.0 in about a year .

One complication of the upgrade is compatibility of add-ons that extend Firefox's features; the new browser version makes some changes. Mozilla is debating whether to release Firefox 3.6 as a minor update automatically distributed to 3.5 users or as a major update that requires those users to actively retrieve it.

One major element of Firefox 4.0 is a new add-on technology called Jetpack that eases this compatibility problem.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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