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Mozilla takes wraps off Firefox 1.5

Open-source browser gets first big makeover since its debut a year ago, promising speedier browsing, swifter updates and better pop-up blocking.

A new version of the Firefox Web browser debuted Tuesday, promising speedier browsing, swifter updates and better pop-up blocking.

Firefox 1.5, available free via download, is the browser's first major update since creator the Mozilla Foundation introduced it about a year ago. Since then, Firefox has emerged as one of the most popular alternatives to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, with more than 100 million copies downloaded in the first year, more than 40 million active users and about 8 percent of the browser market.

Firefox is also one of the most widely distributed open-source programs, meaning anyone can use and modify the code. Thousands of volunteer programmers contributed to the new version of the browser, and more than 750,000 people were involved in testing it since Mozilla, a nonprofit, released the first test version Nov. 1.

New in the 1.5 version are more sophisticated security and performance features. In addition to a more effective pop-up blocker, the updated browser is designed to ease security updates. The program checks daily for patches, downloads them automatically and then prompts users to install them, said Chris Beard, vice president of products at Mozilla.

Other improvements include "forward" and "backward" browsing buttons designed to load Web pages more quickly. A new drag-and-drop feature for browser "tabs" lets users keep related pages together.

Firefox 1.5 also supports new Web programming standards, such as AJAX, that enable more graphical capabilities in Web pages. And the browser features more sophisticated application programming interfaces for people who build and use add-on programs, such as browser-based weather updates.

Mozilla plans to introduce new versions more frequently from now on. Firefox 2.0 is due in mid-2006, and the 3.0 release is set for the first quarter of 2007. The group expects to release security and stability updates every six to eight weeks.

In keeping with its grassroots image, Mozilla is tapping its users to help promote the new version of Firefox. It plans to publish their amateur video endorsements on its Web site. Anyone can upload a video for the group's review.