What to Expect from Firefox in 2012: SPDY, Quiet Updates, Better Web Apps


Last year, Mozilla managed to get Firefox back on track. While the long delay of Firefox 4 gave competitors like the up-and-coming Google Chrome a chance to gain quite a bit of market share, Mozilla adapted to the changing environment and switched to a Chrome-like rapid-release schedule that is focused on releasing a new version every six weeks. Given these short release cycles, it's good to keep the larger picture in view sometimes and, thankfully, Mozilla today provided us with a nice overview of what we can expect from Firefox for the rest of the year.

The organization has discussed most of these plans before, but it's good to take another look at what's in store for the popular browser.

A SPDYer Browser

Among the highlights Firefox's users can look forward to is default support for Google's SPDY protocol that speeds up the communication between your browser and web servers. In the current version (11), SPDY is not enable by default, but you can turn it on by browsing to about:config and doing a search for spdy.enabled.

In addition, Mozilla also plans to turn on HTTP pipelining by default. This allows the browser to download different elements of a site in parallel, which should speed things up, especially for sites that don't yet support the SPDY protocol.

Silent Updates

Mozilla also plans to bring silent updates to Firefox. This means, you will never have to see another update dialog again. Instead, Firefox will just update itself automatically, just like Chrome currently does. The development team plans to launch this feature in version 13.

Better Web Apps

As for web apps, Mozilla wants to integrate them more deeply into the browser. This means support for Mozilla's online app store, which is scheduled to launch later this year, but also a lot of work on the backend, including support for Mozilla's identity solution, an install process for web apps and the ability for apps to run in the background.

This, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg. You can find a full list of the features Mozilla has planned for this year here.

9:34 am

Not Delayed: Firefox 11 Still Coming Later Today


Yesterday, Mozilla announced that it would delay today's planned launch of Firefox 11 for a few days in order to scrutinize a potential security issue and to avoid issues with Microsoft's Patch Tuesday updates today.

Now, however, Mozilla has canceled this delay and announced that Firefox 11 is still on track for today's release. The security vulnerability, it turns out, was already known and patched. In order to avoid the conflict with Patch Tuesday, though, this release will only be available as a manual update today. Once the Firefox team is sure that there are no issues with Microsoft's latest patches, it will push automatic updates to all users.

Since switching to its rapid-release schedule, Mozilla never missed a scheduled release date for Firefox.

What's New in Firefox 11

Once Firefox 11 is available, this is what you can expect from the update:

What’s New

  • NEW
    Firefox can now migrate your bookmarks, history, and cookies from Google Chrome
  • NEW
    With Sync enabled, add-ons can now be synchronized across your computers
  • NEW
    The CSS text-size-adjust property is now supported
    Redesigned media controls for HTML5 video
  • HTML5
    The outerHTML property is now supported on HTML elements
  • HTML5
    View source syntax highlighting now uses the HTML5 parser (see bug 482921)
    The Style Editor for CSS editing is now available to web developers
    Web developers can now visualize a web page in 3D using the Page Inspector 3D View
    SPDY protocol support for faster page loads is now testable
    XMLHttpRequest now supports HTML parsing
    Files can now be stored in IndexedDB (see bug 661877)
    Websockets has now been unprefixed
    Firefox notifications may not work properly with Growl 1.3 or later (691662)





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10:37 am

Firefox 10 Launches: Promises Fewer Add-On Compatibility Issues, Enables Fullscreen API


Now that Mozilla has fully embraced its rapid-release cycle, an update from version 9 to 10 of its popular Firefox browser isn't really an event anymore. Nevertheless, version 10, which launched today, brings a number of welcome new features with it, as well as the usual bug fixes and performance enhancements.

Virtually all of the changes in this new version are under the hood. The interface has not really changed – with one small exception. The forward button is now hidden until you actually navigate back from a page. This is definitely just a small change, though, and we will still have to wait until Firefox 12 to see the new "new tab" page appear in the Firefox release channel release.

If you are already a Firefox user, your browser will soon prompt you to update automatically. Version 10 is now also available for download here.

Fewer Add-On Compatibility Issues

What has changed, though, is the way Firefox 10 handles add-on compatibility issues when you upgrade the browser. Until now, users had to hope that the developers of their favorite add-ons ensured that they were compatible and marked as such. Now that Mozilla is releasing a new version of its browser every six weeks, though, that was becoming an issue for developers and users.

Mozilla's own add-on repository can automatically check the compatibility of most of the add-ons hosted on its servers. The problem, however, is that about 75% of add-ons are not hosted by Mozilla. Firefox 10 now assumes that most of these are actually compatible when you upgrade your browser. Thanks to this, users won't have to hope that a plugin's developer will constantly ensure that a plugin is up to date.

You can find more details about how Mozilla does this here.

Also New: Full Screen API

In addition, the new version also now offers developers a full screen API that allows them to build web apps that can run full screen. Game developers will likely be among the first to embrace this ability, though Mozilla also expects online video experiences and presentation software to make extensive use of this feature as well.


8:47 am

Google and Mozilla Renew Their Search Royalty Deal for at Least Three More Years


Mozilla, the organization behind the popular Firefox browser, is a non-profit organization and that status allows it to run experiments that a for-profit organization couldn't quite justify to its shareholders. It still has to make money, though, and the majority of the organization's income (84%) comes from a revenue-sharing partnership with Google. This cooperation ended in November, though. Given Google's own efforts in the browser market with Chrome, many wondered if Google would opt out of renewing its deal with Mozilla. We don't need to worry about the (financial) future of Firefox anymore, though, as Mozilla just announced that it has renewed its search relationship with Google for at least three additional years.

The exact details of agreement weren't disclosed, but both companies were obviously put into a somewhat awkward position, as Mozilla now had to make a deal with its biggest competitor and Google had to decided on whether it wanted to continue to help the only real competitor to Chrome. In the end, though, Google would have lost a lot of goodwill if it had decided against this deal.

It's not clear if Mozilla was also in talks with Microsoft to make a similar deal that would have made Bing the default search engine on Firefox. The company did release a special edition of its browser with Bing as the default in October, though.

8:13 pm

Firefox Turns 7: Here are Some Designs That Never Made It


The first stable release of Mozilla’s Firefox appeared exactly 7 years ago on November, 9 2004. Quite a few things have changed for Mozilla and Firefox since then, including the arrival of interactive web apps that most developers and designers were only dreaming about 7 years ago. Instead of looking back to how Firefox changed over the years, though, Alex Faaborg, the principle designer on the Firefox team posted some of hts design ideas for the browser that never made the cut.

As he puts it, these are some of his “crazier concepts that we never rolled out, and highlights some of the stranger scenes that we have on the cutting room floor.”

Without further ado, here are some of the highlights:

1) A theme for the Firefox private browsing mode (somehow that one never made it into the stable releases):


2) A fluffy pie menu (Faaborg: “But what I really like about this particular pie menu isn’t what it does, but how it feels.  It’s fluffy, it’s soft, it’s friendly.  It’s like interacting with a happy cloud.”)


3) Immersive full screen mode (it’s a shame this design never made it. The full screen mode in most browsers still doesn’t feel right)


4) Location bar as a graphical command line (I gather this one would have been too advanced for most users):


5) New interfaces for searching and bookmarking (I would love to see those in a future version of Firefox):



You can find these images, including a discussion of each of them as well as more examples on Faaborg’s personal blog.

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7:52 pm

Mozilla Launches Custom Firefox Version with Bing as Default Search Engine


Since its earliest days, Firefox always used Google as its default search engine. Chances are, this won’t change anytime soon, but a short little announcement on the Firefox blog this morning will surely get some pundits to speculate if Microsoft’s Bing could one day become the browser’s search engine of choice. That’s because starting today, Mozilla will offer a custom version of Firefox with Bing to its users. This custom version uses Bing as the default search engine in both the search box and the “AwesomeBar.” will also be the default homepage and chances are that Microsoft and Mozilla have worked out a way to split revenue from this venture, though the official announcement doesn’t make any mention of this.

Bing has been a search option for Firefox since last October. Mozilla clearly doesn’t want you to read too much into this announcement. In its blog post, the Firefox team notes that there are “nearly 20 customized versions of Firefox distributed globally by partners including Bing, United Internet, Twitter, Yahoo! and Yandex.” Bing then is just another one in this series of custom versions and I doubt the Twitter or Yahoo versions of Firefox are seeing record downloads (just try finding them in the first place).

Given that Google’s Chrome is quickly gaining market share, though, and has now become a formidable competitor for Firefox, it’s hard to imagine that the folks over at Mozilla haven’t thought about switching allegiances to Microsoft. I doubt this will happen anytime soon, though, as Mozilla currently needs the income its gets from Google to survive. If Microsoft decides to match this, though, things may change, of course, and maybe this custom version is just a way of testing what that cooperation would look like…

4:43 pm

Firefox 7 Has Arrived: Faster and Leaner


Mozilla today launched the latest stable version of Firefox. While some enterprise users are not very happy with the new, faster release schedule for Firefox (this is the fourth stable release this year), every new version has brought worthwhile advantages and Firefox 7 is no exception. This new version doesn’t just include many developer-centric enhancements, but if you are a regular Firefox user, you will be happy to hear that the new Firefox now uses significantly less memory. It’s also faster, especially if you tend to keep many tabs open at the same time.

Other speed enhancements include support for hardware-accelerating some HTML5 functions that will make games and other interactive graphics run faster and smoother.

Calling Home

In addition to all of this, Firefox 7 is also the first stable release to support Mozilla’s new telemetry feature. With this, users can opt in to report their anonymized usage data back to the developers. This, says Mozilla, will allow its developers to measure Firefox performance in the real world better and help them optimize future releases. Before you worry about this, though, it’s important to note that Mozilla will only collect some very basic information about your system: memory usage, CPU core count, cycle collection times, Firefox startup speed.

Getting the Update

If you are already using Firefox, your browser will update itself soon (or take a look at the About menu and see if the update is already ready to be applied there). If you want to download the latest version manually, just head over here.

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5:42 pm

Mozilla Officially Launches Firefox 6


Mozilla today officially launched Firefox 6, the latest stable version of its popular browser. Since its switch to a more frequent release schedule, Mozilla has already pushed out a number of releases, so version numbers themselves are becoming significantly less useful at this point and most of the updates are rather small. Indeed, users who expect this to be a major update will be sorely disappointed as Mozilla only made minor tweaks to the user interface and didn’t add any major new features in this new version besides a new permissions tool for site-specific permissions.

That, of course, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a plethora of bug fixes and new features for developers in Firefox 6. Regular users, however, won’t notice much of a difference if they were already using Firefox 5 before. Most of your addons should also continue to work just fine. While earlier updates often broke many of the most popular updates, this has become less and less of an issue over the last few releases.

What’s New

Here is Mozilla’s official list of what’s new in Firefox 6: [list]

  • The address bar now highlights the domain of the website you’re visiting
  • Streamlined the look of the site identity block
  • Added support for the latest draft version of WebSockets with a prefixed API
  • Added support for EventSource / server-sent events
  • Added support for window.matchMedia
  • Added Scratchpad, an interactive JavaScript prototyping environment
  • Added a new Web Developer menu item and moved development-related items into it
  • Improved usability of the Web Console
  • Improved the discoverability of Firefox Sync
  • Reduced browser startup time when using Panorama
  • Fixed several stability issues
  • Fixed several security issues [/list]

Firefox 6 for Mobile

In addition to the desktop version, Mozilla also launched a new version of Firefox for Android. This new version features a slightly updated user interface and was tweaked to work better on tablets.

Get New Versions Earlier with the Beta and Aurora Channel

Intrepid users who want an early look at new Firefox builds can also switch to the Beta and Aurora channel (or even the Nightly channel if you feel really adventurous). This way, you can get new features even earlier and help Mozilla by reporting issues with these test builds.

3:51 pm

Firefox 7 Promises to Use Up to 50% Less Memory


A few months ago, Mozilla started a project called MemShrink that aims to make Firefox a leaner browser that uses less memory. Now, it looks like Firefox 7, which is scheduled to arrive as a beta version later this month, will be the first version of the popular browser to see the benefits of this technology.

According to Mozilla developer Nicholas Nethercote, Firefox 7 uses about 20% to 30% less memory than its predecessors, and sometimes as much as 50% less depending on individual usage patterns. The Firefox team also managed to clamp down on memory leakage and the browser’s memory usage will now remain stable, even if you leave your browser open over night.

With the arrival of Google’s Chrome, Firefox – which was long the forerunner in terms of browser innovation – suddenly looked rather bloated. Indeed, according to Nethercote, Firefox 4 added so many new features and technologies that its memory usage increased and slowed the browser down. memory_usage_firefox

It’s About More Than Just Cutting Down on Bloat

It’s important to note that this is not just about reducing memory usage, though. There are a number of other benefits to this project as well, as using less memory also means fewer crashes and speed enhancements. This, says Nethercote, is especially important for users who are running Firefox on 32bit Windows systems, where applications are “typically restricted to only 2GB of virtual memory.”

Now that Mozilla has switched to a more Chrome-like rapid-release cycle for Firefox, the benefits of projects like MemShrink can make it into the final product a lot faster. If you can’t wait until the release of Firefox 7 – or if you feel especially adventurous – you can always run the Aurora and Beta channels, of course, and get an early look at the next version of Firefox.

4:00 pm

Boot to Gecko: Mozilla Plans a ChromeOS Rival for Mobile Devices


Mozilla today announced Boot to Gecko, a very ambitious project that aims to create a “complete, standalone operating system for the open web.” This project’s goal is to develop what seems like a ChromeOS-like operating system where all the apps are based on HTML5. This system will use Google’s own open-source Android platform as its basis. The focus, Mozilla’s VP or Technical Strategy Mike Shaver noted in a Google discussion forum today, will be on the “handheld/tablet/mobile experience.” According to Shaver, we may see some PC-based prototypes, but Mozilla is more interested in the “device space.”

Android: Just for Booting and Drivers

The Android connection here is that Boot to Gecko will use the Android kernel and drivers to boot the device. Indeed, Shaver also notes that Mozilla aims to “use as little of Android as possible.” Given that quite a few device makers are already producing drivers for Android (and not necessarily for straightforward Linux implementations), using the lower-level Android layers makes sense for Mozilla.

Break “The Stranglehold of Proprietary Technologies Over the Mobile Device World”

The ultimate ideological goal behind the project, says Mozilla’s Andreas Gal, is to break “the stranglehold of proprietary technologies over the mobile device world.” That does seem like a mobile idea indeed.


Here are some of the areas where Mozilla thinks extra work for getting this project going is still needed: [list]

  • New web APIs: build prototype APIs for exposing device and OS capabilities to content (Telephony, SMS, Camera, USB, Bluetooth, NFC, etc.)
  • Privilege model: making sure that these new capabilities are safely exposed to pages and applications
  • Booting: prototype a low-level substrate for an Android-compatible device;
  • Applications: choose and port or build apps to prove out and prioritize the power of the system.[/list]

It will be interesting to see how developers will react to such a system, a ChromeOS-like “GeckoOS” that is actually popular could mean that developers could focus their energy on building just one application in HTML5 that would run on a large number of devices. As usual, though, this is an uphill fight, as device manufacturers would have to support this system to bring it into mainstream users’ hands.

Mozilla, as a non-profit organization, does have the ability to give these kinds of ideas a try to learn from them, whether they succeed or not.

7:11 pm

Mozilla Launches BrowserID: A Decentralized Alternative to Facebook Connect


Now that most of us regularly use dozens of sites on the Internet that all ask us to remember different login credentials, having a secure way to use a single login and password for all of these sites becomes more and more important (especially given that using the same password for every site – as many people do – is never a good idea). Thanks to OpenID, Facebook Connect and similar solutions, signing in to sites that support those protocols is now a lot easier than it used to be. OpenID, however, never quite caught on with users and using Facebook Connect means that a lot of your identity information is also made available to the sites you want to sign in to. Now, Mozilla, the organization behind the popular Firefox browser, is launching BrowserID, a decentralized protocol that, according to Mozilla’s announcement, will make it easy for users to sign in to websites with their existing email addresses and doesn’t suffer from “lock-in, reliability issues, and data privacy concerns.”

browser_id_demoWith BrowserID, users will be able to use any existing email address to verify their identity to websites that implement this system. To do so, the system users the Verified Email Protocol. Mozilla also stresses that BrowserID “does not leak information back to any server (not even to the BrowserID servers) about which sites a user visits” and provides  “a safer and easier way to sign in.” You can find more detailed information about how BrowserID works here.

How it Works

Basically, this allows you to use your existing email address (so you don’t have to sign up for yet another service) to sign in to a website with just one click (after you have authenticated your browser once before).  To see how this works, head over to this demo site and click on the blue “Sign in” button or watch the following video, which includes a step-by-step demo of the service.

Mozilla currently hosts a BrowserID server for developers, but, as Mozilla’s Matt Brubeck notes on a discussion on Hacker News, any site can independently implement the protocol as well.

Not Just for Firefox

It’s worth noting that BrowserID isn’t tied to any specific browser vendor and works just as well in Firefox as Internet Explorer and Chrome. It also doesn’t have to be specifically supported by your email provider, though according to Mozilla, those providers that do support it will be able to provide “a better experience and more control if they do.”

In the future, as browsers implement this feature natively, you won’t have to sign up for a specific service anymore – is really just a temporary construct for now. It’s also worth noting that Mozilla hopes to work with other identity providers like Facebook, Google and Twitter to standardize this protocol.

9:26 pm

Firefox 6 Now in Alpha: Introduces New Developer and Privacy Tools


Mozilla’s new rapid release schedule remains on track. Firefox 5 is now in beta and, right on schedule, Firefox 6 is now entering its development cycle. The next version of Firefox will introduce a number of new tools for both regular users and developers. The alpha version of Firefox 6 Mozilla launched today introduces a new experimental privacy feature called the Data Management Window, an enhanced add-ons manager and some new features for Panorama. For developers, Mozilla is introducing a new feature for quickly building and testing JavaScript snippets in the browser, as well as enhancements to the Web Console and a new Web Developer menu that makes it easier to access these tools from the Firefox menu button. (more…)

8:32 pm

Mozilla's Asa Dotzler: "Chrome Team is Bowing to Pressure from Google's Advertising Business"


Among the major browser vendors, Google’s Chrome is currently the only one that has not signed on to use the Do Not Track feature that Mozilla has been lobbying for. While Microsoft, Apple, Firefox and Opera have either already implemented this feature or will do so soon, Google is still holding out. According to Mozilla’s director of community development Asa Dotzler, the “Chrome team is bowing to pressure from Google’s advertising business and that’s a real shame.” Indeed, Dotzler says in his blog post, this situation is similar to what happened when Netscape released version 7.0 of its browser.

For Netscape 7.0, which according to Dotzler “was basically Mozilla 1.0 with a Netscape theme and a couple of proprietary Netscape features,” Netscape decided to remove the pop-up blocker that Mozilla 1.0 had just developed. The Netscape team had to bow to the pressure of AOL/Netscape as those sites depended on advertising money (including pop-up ads) to fund their work. The next version of Netscape did include the pop-up blocker, but excluded all Netscape/AOL/Time-Warner sites from this by default.

Pressure from Advertisers – Or Something Else?

It’s hard to say if it’s really pressure from Google’s advertising side that is keeping Chrome from supporting the Do Not Track feature. In its current form, browsers that support this feature just sent a header to the server that tells the publisher and advertiser that this particular user is opting out from being tracked. In its current form, this feature is – at best – a public demonstration that you would like to opt out, but advertisers don’t have to honor it. Indeed, you can’t even know if advertisers have seen it and intent to respect your choice. As such, pleading support to a feature that currently has no real effect is pretty easy at this point.

This could change in the long run, though. Given that various government agencies have started to look into online tracking and its privacy implications, online advertisers have every interest in supporting this feature if they want to continue to self-regulate without interference from Washington. In the comments on his post, Dotzler rightly notes that it’ll be impossible to get 100% of advertisers to agree to using this feature. Once you get a majority of them on board, though, you can “shame the remaining 20% by telling the user when they visit those sites that those sites aren’t honoring their wishes”

So what do you think? Is the Chrome team under pressure from the rest of Google to ignore this Do Not Track feature? Or is Google just waiting to see what happens and will implement this later?

10:37 am

Microsoft Wants to Set the Record Straight on IE9 vs. Firefox 4 Download Numbers


With the launch of a major new version of virtually every major browser in the last few weeks, the discussion around how many downloads each one of them got is unavoidable and, as Microsoft’s senior director of its Internet Explorer business and marketing group, Ryan Gavin calls it, “a natural temptation.” In comparison with Mozilla, which just launched Firefox 4 last week, Microsoft’s download numbers don’t look great. Mozilla saw about twice as many downloads as IE9 during the first 24 hours of Firefox 4’s general availability (2.4 million vs. 7 million). According to Microsoft, however, there is a very good reason for this.

The difference between the way Microsoft releases its browser and the update mechanisms that Mozilla and Google have in place, though, means that it’s virtually impossible to draw any conclusions based on these 24-hour download numbers. Gavin rightly notes that both Mozilla and Google have automatic update systems in place that starts rolling the new browser version out to virtually all of their active users on the day it becomes available. Microsoft takes a very different and more conservative approach, though.

Firefox 4 Download Stats

Microsoft: “90% of IE9 Downloads Have Come From Non-IE9 RC and Beta Users”

Until now, only those users who downloaded IE9 directly were counted in Microsoft’s numbers. Indeed, Microsoft only turned on automatic updates for users who had beta and release candidate versions of IE9 installed yesterday. So far, according to Gavin, 90% of downloads of IE9 “have come from non-IE9 RC and Beta users.” IE9 still hasn’t been released for automatic updates through Windows Update, so comparing the early download numbers is, says Gavin “premature at best, and misleading at worst.”

While Gavin calls for “a thoughtful approach to measuring browser adoption,” he does take a slight swipe at the other browser vendors and, between the lines, accuses them of counting incomplete downloads in their numbers (“And remember, we report completed downloads – not attempted downloads where a user may hit a download button repeatedly but without fully downloading IE9.”).

Gavin also argues that his group is fully focused on Windows 7 and wants to give users on this operating system an “experience that will push the web forward.” Other vendors, he says, don’t have this “singular goal” of making their browser as good as it can be on Windows 7, as they focus on other operating systems, too. Some, of course, would argue that it’s a good thing to offer your browser for as many platforms as possible…

While I don’t fully agree with the overall sentiment of his argument, his call for pundits to wait for the point where IE9 becomes available through Windows Update is well taken (“Until that time, don’t get too wrapped up in the browser number gymnastics currently going on.”).

12:41 pm

Firefox 4 for Android and Maemo Now Available


Just a week after the general release of Firefox 4 for the desktop, Mozilla just released the latest mobile version of its browser for Android and the Maemo-powered Nokia N900. Mozilla was relatively late in embracing mobile platforms with Firefox, but in terms of features, this latest release brings it up to par with other mobile browsers like Opera Mobile and the popular Dolphin browser.

For Android devices, the browser weighs in at about 13MB, making it one of the larger downloads for a mobile browser. We haven’t been able to test the browser yet ourselves, but it is worth noting that many users in the Android Market already complain that the browser feels rather slow on their devices.

Here are some of the key features of Firefox 4 for Android and Maemo: [list]

  • streamlined interface
  • faster than any previous version of Firefox for a mobile device thanks to support for Mozilla’s JaegerMonkey JavaScript engine
  • support for multi-core CPUs, which are slowly becoming more common in mobile devices now
  • support for Firefox Sync to keep your online and offline bookmarks, as well as open tabs, history, form data and passwords in sync
  • customization with Firefox mobile add-onsFirefox Mobile Features
  • “awesome screen,” which is similar to the awesome bar on the desktop and learns which sites you most often browse to and makes them available with a few tabs
  • support for Firefox Personas to customize the look of your browser
  • one-touch bookmarking
  • tabbed browsing
  • full screen view [/list]

Typing awesomescreen screen png  PNG Image 600x1024 pixels  Build 20110318052756Tabbed browsing screen png  PNG Image 600x1024 pixels  Build 20110318052756

8:33 am