Mozilla Moves On To Firefox 3.0

Firefox 2.0 out the door earlier this week

Officially Firefox 3.0 but code named "Gran Paradiso," the application will pick up where Firefox 2.0 leaves off, said Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla's director of engineering. Among the features Mozilla wants to get into 3.0 is "Places," the revamped bookmarks tool which was dropped from Firefox 2.0 in April.

"Places just wasn't ready to go [in Firefox 2.0]," said Schroepfer. "We definitely didn't want to add it until it was ready for prime time."

That time, he added, would be Firefox 3.0. Places, a major redesign of the bookmark model, will store both bookmarks and browsing history in a database, then let users search the database for sites they want to revisit.

"Bookmarks and [browsing] history haven't changed in years," Schroepfer said. "We have a number of ideas of how people can manage their own section of the Web."

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Mozilla has already begun work on a new rendering engine to debut in Firefox 3.0 -- it will swap out the aging "Gfx" graphics infrastructure for something called "Cairo 2D" -- and next year's browser will use the Gecko 1.9 code base. Both Firefox 2.0 and 2005's Firefox 1.5 relied on Gecko 1.8 code. Mozilla's switching to the Cairo 2D graphics library to add hardware-accelerated 2D graphics capabilities to the browser.

A side effect to moving to Cairo in Firefox 3.0 will be dropping support for Windows 95, 98, and Millennium. The shift away the older operating systems was announced in June, and collected substantial criticism from users.

Recently, Mozilla asked developers and users to brainstorm new features for Firefox 3.0 and later editions, then posted a large document containing the ideas. "It's meant to be a way to catch these [ideas]," said Mike Beltzner, the company's user interface designer. At the beginning of the week, over 1,100 contributions had been filed with Mozilla.

"We're trying to make sure that we're not feature driven," said Beltzner "We try to figure out what people are doing with the Web. This is a seed list of what's possible."

Among the items in the wish list are requests for more enterprise control, a "remind-me-later" feature for the browser's updates, and JavaScript restrictions.

Also on the table, said Schroepfer: lowered rights for Firefox when it runs on Windows XP, Mac OS X, and Linux. This fall, Microsoft Corp. invited Mozilla engineers, including Schroepfer, to its Redmond, Wash. headquarters to work with the Windows Vista team. One of the things Mozilla came away with was the idea to implement some of Vista's low rights features in Firefox on other operating systems. "We may try it out on Mac and Linux, too," said Schroepfer. "But it's too early to really comment on."

Mozilla's shooting for the end of next year as a delivery date for Firefox 3.0. "About every year is about the right cycle for a major upgrade," said Schroepfer. "Anything less just doesn't give us enough time."

That schedule would jibe with what Mozilla's done the last two years; it released Firefox 1.5 in November 2005, and Firefox 2.0 in October of this year.

"But it's really too early" to give a deadline, added Schroepfer.

"Right. The release, as always, will be driven by the quality bar," said Beltzner.