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Mozilla embracing Chrome's fast-rev ethos

Trying to become more competitive by getting Firefox into users' hands more rapidly, Mozilla proposes a quarterly release cycle that could bring Firefox 7 by the end of 2011.

Firefox logo

Mozilla has a new plan for Firefox in 2011: Turn the crank faster.

The organization is set to deliver Firefox 4 in coming weeks. And according to a draft Firefox roadmap, Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's director of Firefox, proposed releasing versions 5, 6, and 7 in 2011, too. This fast-release ethos, pioneered in the browser world by Google's Chrome, means smaller changes arrive more frequently.

For comparison, Firefox 1 arrived in 2004, Firefox 2 in 2006, Firefox 3 in 2008, with Firefox 4 slipping past a hoped-for 2010 ship date and likely to slip past another date set for the end of February.

The faster schedule is designed to make Firefox more competitive by getting new features into users' hands faster. According to Beltzner:

We succeeded in re-energizing the browser market, creating competition and innovation which benefits Web application developers and users alike. This newly competitive market has presented challenges for the continued success of Firefox, and in 2011 we must ensure that we can deliver a product that is compelling to users in order to continue to be able to demonstrate our vision for the Web. To do this we must:

• provide a browser that is stable and responsive,

• build a product for modern desktop and mobile hardware,

• provide a simple set of features and experiences to help users get the most out of the Web,

• support Web technologies that are desired most by application developers and users,

• deliver those technology improvements quickly to our user base.

It's not easy turning the crank faster, though.

"Changing the way we ship products will require the re-evaluation of many assumptions and a large shift in the way we think about the size of a 'major' release," Beltzner said. "The criteria for inclusion should be no regressions [new bugs], well understood effects for users, and completion in time for a planned release vehicle."

Firefox's share of worldwide browser usage has remained largely flat, with Chrome and Safari steadily picking up usage in recent months. Chrome, which often serves as a vehicle for Google to promote favored new technologies, moved last year from a quarterly release cycle to an even faster one with twice that pace.