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Mozilla says next Firefox likely months away

Organization behind the open-source browser chose to add more features instead of shipping in early 2009. A final Firefox 3.5 looks to be two to three months away.

Mozilla had planned to release its new "Shiretoko" version of Firefox in early 2009, but with the scale of changes made to the open-source browser, a date halfway through the year now looks more realistic.

After releasing Firefox 3.1 beta 3 last week, the organization behind the browser said a fourth beta is planned--and with the new version number 3.5.

"There are no plans for a Beta 5 at this time, and after Beta 4 we'll be looking to move to a release candidate," said Firefox director Mike Beltzner in a statement. "Of course, we stand by our commitment to ship software when it's ready."

So when might the final version of Firefox 3.5 be ready, with at least two more test versions planned? Mozilla evangelist Chris Blizzard offered a loose schedule in a Twitter post Friday. "Firefox 3.5 will be out once we do one more beta and some release candidates. No dates, but probably 2-3 months or so," Blizzard said.

It's always difficult to draw the line between freezing features to concentrate on stabilizing software and extending development time to add a bit more technology to the new version; Mozilla decided the latter path was the better one.

"The increase in version number is proposed due to the sheer volume of work, which makes Shiretoko feel like much more than a small, incremental improvement over Firefox 3: TraceMonkey, video tag and player support, improvements to user controls over data privacy, significant improvements in the web layout and rendering platform, and much more," Beltzner said in an earlier blog post about the Firefox version number change.

The browser wars are in full force, with Microsoft on the cusp of releasing the new Internet Explorer 8, Apple offering a beta of Safari 4, Opera trying to offer faster downloads and faster JavaScript in its product, and Google, the 800-pound Internet Gorilla, offering Chrome.

Changes in Firefox 3.5 include faster execution of Web-based JavaScript programs, a private browsing mode, native support for the JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) technology for exchanging data between servers and browsers, and built-in audio and video abilities for bypassing Flash or other multimedia technologies.