Beyond Firefox 3.5: sneak peek at Mozilla's next browser

While most of the tech world is busy getting to know Firefox 3.5, Mozilla's engineers are already deep into their next big project

Mozilla's Firefox 3.5 is off to a running start. The new browser, boasting significant speed increases and a host of added features, was officially released Tuesday morning. By mid-afternoon, the program had surpassed 1.6 million downloads worldwide and was steadily climbing, according to Mozilla's real-time tracking utility.

While most of the tech world is busy getting to know Firefox 3.5, though, Mozilla's engineers are already deep into their next big project: the tentatively numbered Firefox 3.6, codename Namoroka.

The Next Firefox: Meet Namoroka

The next Firefox is currently slated to be released in early- to mid-2010, according to Mozilla's developer notes. That, as we saw with Firefox 3.5 (formerly 3.1), can always change as things moves forward; in fact, Mozilla's already given Namoroka the additional nickname of "Firefox.next" to avoid getting attached to any specific figures.

So what's in store for this mysteriously named new browser? Here are some highlights of what's in the works so far.

o Performance

The follow-up to Firefox 3.5 will aim to improve performance even more from the current configuration. Mozilla developers intend to make "dramatic" and "user-perceptible" gains in areas such as startup time, new tab opening time, and overall responsiveness.

o Customization

Mozilla hopes to build on its user-controlled interface with the next Firefox, making it easier for users to customize both on their own and automatically. One idea under discussion, for example, is a "custom-fit user experience based on a user's interaction history." The browser would actually learn how you use it, then start to adjust itself based on your preferences. Other areas of improvement could include the addition of light-weight themes and add-ons that would install on-demand, without a required restart.

o Navigation

Firefox's next release is set to gain more natural navigation options. One way this would be accomplished would be with the integration of Taskfox, a reworked version of Mozilla's Ubiquity tool. Basically, the utility would provide you with a set of commands that could perform complex tasks in response to a single word. You could highlight text on a Web page and type in "twit," for example, and the text would automatically be sent out via Twitter.

o Web and OS Integration

Mozilla hopes to "blur the distinction between Web and desktop applications" with the next Firefox release, making it simpler for you to send files or create rich data on Web sites. The next Firefox could also become more integrated with your operating system, gaining OS-specific themes and the ability to use system-driven data such as dictionaries (for both Windows and Mac OS X). As a result of this shift, some older versions of operating systems -- namely, Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and lower -- may not be supported.

Mozilla's Firefox Timeline

If all goes according to plan, the first Firefox 3.6 beta could see the light of day within about seven months. Assuming the timing remains constant, a final release would ship roughly a year from now, possibly even sooner.

Of course, plenty could change -- both in timing and in features. Mozilla is always looking at various tweaks and improvements, such as the introduction of an expanded default tab page a la Chrome and other browsers. (Mozilla has been toying with such an idea since the planning stages of Firefox 3.1.) For now, though, we'll just have to rely on 3.5 to keep our Firefox appetites satisfied, knowing that the next course isn't terribly far away.

Connect with JR Raphael on Twitter (@jr_raphael) or via his Web site, jrstart.com.

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