When it finally ships later this year, Firefox 4 will have gone through at least twelve beta releases since. The first beta was released in July 2010 and the final release is now set for around later this month. Going forward, however,┬áMozilla’s director of Firefox development Mike┬áBeltzner envisions a very different release schedule. Indeed, if it is up to Beltzner, we will see Firefox 4, 5, 6, and 7 later this year as the organization changes the way it defines major versions and ships updates.

Faster Releases in Smaller Bundles

As Beltzner puts it, to stay relevant in this “newly competitive market” and gain market share back from competitors like Google Chrome (though he doesn’t mention Google’s browser by name), Mozilla has to be able to continue to deliver “a product that is compelling to users.” One aspect of this plan is redefining how the organization ships and defines updates to Firefox. Mostly, this means shipping smaller bundles of updates on a fast schedule and with a scope that is more akin to Google’s updates for Chrome.

Here is how Beltzner explanation for this new release schedule:

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. The criteria for inclusion should be no regressions, well understood effects for users, and completion in time for a planned release vehicle

“Shine the User Interface Until it Gleams”

There is a lot more to the Firefox roadmap that just a faster, more nimble release schedule. Priorities for Firefox in 2011 include an improved user interface (“Shine the primary UI until it gleams”) that makes the Firefox UI feel modern again and that is optimized for the most important user interactions like searching for restaurants. This will include more animations, building the F1 sharing plugin right into the browser, and introducing an improved account manager.

On the back end, Beltzner envisions a system that never takes more than 50ms to react to a user action, supports recent web technologies and runs on all modern operating systems, including mobile platforms like Android 3.0.

Summary

Here are the main items on Beltzner’s list:

  1. - Ship Firefox 4, 5, 6 and 7 in the 2011 calendar year
  2. - Always respond to a user action within 50 ms
  3. - Never lose user data or state
  4. - Build Web Apps, Identity and Social into the Open Web Platform
  5. - Support new operating systems and hardware
  6. - Polish the user experience for common interaction tasks
  7. - Plan and architect for a future of a common platform on which the desktop and mobile products will be built and run Web Apps

(Note: while the document says it was last updated in December 2010, the last edit was actually made on February 7)

Mozilla’s also published its plans for other areas over the last few days, including add-on development, Mozilla’s plan for a federated identity system and the future of its developer tools.