Monday, 22 August 2011

Mozilla releases its latest stable version of Firefox 6

Mozilla just released its latest version of its popular Firefox 6 browser today. The updated software is available for download for the Windows platform, Mac, Linux and Android. This is the second stable version of the browser to arrive under the new rapid-release cycle. As expected, some of the changes to the browser are smaller in nature, and are more likely to be about stability and security concerns. But nevertheless, Mozilla still took the opportunity of this second stable rapid release to address a few complaints from users who want version numbers to mean something.
And Firefox fans aren't the only users with a few worries. Rivals such as Opera have a vested interest in opposing the rapid-release cycle, which puts the browser in the news cycle far more often than before. "In the last few months, web developers and IT administrators have expressed some concern about the pace of new browser releases from Chrome and Firefox. We believe in a more balanced pace," said Jan Standal, vice president of desktop products for Opera Software.
And Standal's view on the matter is perfectly understandable, being in the same market as Google's Chrome is as well as the other open source browser: Firefox. Opera still has a very slim market share of the browser market, especially in North America. The majority of its users are in Europe.
And while Mozilla didn't address the complaints directly, it did release some details on how the rapid-release cycle works. It also made several statements focusing on the future of Firefox.
"Overall, the next generation of innovation on the Internet will be made possible by a browser that is an honest broker committed to the interests of the individual user and developer, providing a good experience that match those offered by proprietary platforms, and user control that is superior to proprietary platforms. As Firefox has transformed the browser landscape before, it must do so again," wrote Jay Sullivan, vice president of products for Mozilla.
Now whether Mozilla can do that or not is of course another story alltogether. But the company's recent announcement about making a Firefox-based mobile operating system will play a large role in its own attempts. "There's no reason why mobile apps can't incorporate the characteristics that are important about the Internet. They don't today because Apple didn't build them that way. There's no reason Apple should. Apple has a different view of the world. But we can," said Mitchell Baker, chairman of the Mozilla Foundation.
As for the version of the browser that was released today, Firefox 6 for desktops and laptops contains a number of important stability fixes, as well as some feature improvements, most of which are aimed at app developers.
There's also a new Web Developer menu in Firefox 6, which collates tools for building and debugging Web sites into one single location.
These include the new Scratch Pad tool, which browsers like Opera and Chrome have had for some time. It allows Web developers to test JavaScript before implementing it. The Web console feature also has a new auto-complete option and can have its location customized.
Firefox's visual tab-grouping feature that was introduced in version 4 now only loads the active tab group. Mozilla said in the blog post announcing Firefox 6 that this will cut down on overall browser load times. The identity block, the colored left-most section of the URL, has been given a refresh to better call out the Web site you're on, and the URL bar itself now changes the text color of the URL you're on so that the domain is black, for easier identification, while the rest of the URL is grayed out.
This is a small security modification, and one that's been previously available to users who are comfortable changing their about:config, but it's definitely a strong visual cue that helps you avoid getting spoofed.
Several security flaws labeled "critical" have also been fixed, repairing security issues related to memory management, heap overflows, and unsigned scripts.
And HTML5 also gets some attention in Firefox 6, with some improvements and additional support for the new Window.matchMedia API for Web optimization, WebSockets and server-sent APIs for building more interactive real-time Web-based apps and games.
While some minor improvements were made to Firefox's memory management in this release, users will have to wait another update cycle to see the significant gains that Mozilla programmer Nicholas Nethercote wrote about last week.
The Android version of Firefox 6 includes a new Welcome page and a new look for phones running Android 2.3 (so-called Gingerbread). The browser now supports Indexed DB for storing Web pages in a local database, enabling the Android version to work better when offline.
Mozilla also says that its newly updated browser will start up faster and use less RAM. And the first of several planned changes to support tablets have arrived in this version as well, including font and icon optimization for tablets.
Mozilla's new rapid release cycle promises new versions of Firefox avery six weeks.
Source: The Mozilla Software Foundation.

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