A lot of people are interested in Firefox, the progress that is being made and what we plan to do. Therefore, I’d like to outline the things we accomplished with Firefox in 2011, and what we have already done, and plan to do, in 2012.
Firefox in 2011
The major things we did with Firefox in 2011 were:
- Rapid releases
- We moved into new releases every 6 weeks of Firefox, to ensure both new features and fixes got out there faster to end users, instead of having to wait up to one year before – enabling a better web for end users and web developers alike. A concern was raised was about enterprises and releases, and therefore we established the Extended Support Release for Organizations. There were also questions about add-on compatibility and update approach, that is covered below for 2012.
- Performance work
- During 2011, we saw the latest Firefox release that year being up to 7 times faster than Firefox 3.6!
- Memory usage
- A lot of work went into this area, and there were improvements resulting in up to 50% less memory usage.
- Firefox release channels
- To give web developers more options to test new features, we introduced the Firefox Aurora channel. Together with Firefox Beta and Firefox Nightly, that means a lot of ways to try new things.
- Firefox for Android
- We released Firefox for Android and have some exciting features lined up, available for testing in the Firefox Aurora and Firefox Nightly channels.
- Firefox introduced Do Not Track to the industry, something that was quickly followed by others. In 2011, the adoption for Firefox was 17.6% on mobile and 6% on desktop.
- Improvements and features
- In 2011, we made 10 881 enhancements/changes to Firefox, together with 83 new features and 135 new APIs.
- A staggering 480 000 000 add-ons were installed!
Firefox and version numbers
With rapid releases and new version numbers, we have had questions about what they mean and communicate.
Version numbers will play a lesser and lesser role for users, but they will still matter to web developers, IT administrators and similar. The reason for having major version number bumps (e.g. version 6 to 7, 7 to 8, etc) is that new versions have had cases of non-backward compatible APIs, and the version number have been there to signal that it is not a minor release or maintenance update.
From a branding perspective, it will likely more go into being just Firefox, and that versioning will be more transparent.
Firefox in 2012
To continue to build on our progress and momentum for 2011 we evaluated what the next steps would be, and have already started implementing a number of them. Outlined below are some of the most important ones.
- Add-on compatibility
- To address the issue of people updating Firefox but having their desired add-ons stop working, from Firefox 10 add-ons were made Compatible by Default. This means that all add-ons that were marked compatible for Firefox 4 and higher will automatically be enabled in Firefox 10 and later.
- Add-on sync
- Firefox Sync are being used by a lot of people, and in 2011 there were 25 billion items synced. To complement that, from Firefox 11 you can now also sync add-ons.
- Silent updates
- To cater to update fatigue, updates will now be downloaded and installed silently in the background. It means that startup and shutdown of the web browser won’t be affected by installation routines. Additionally, the What’s New page displayed after an update can now be displayed depending if there is important information needed to be displayed to the end user. Silent updates are currently planned to land in Firefox 12, and some supporting enhancements including background updates will land after Firefox 12 (the silent update mechanism is broken down into several parts, described in detail in the Silent Update planning).
- Developer Tools
- Our Developer Tools in Firefox continue to evolve, with a number of features outlined in the Developer Tools roadmap.
All Firefox plans are available in the Firefox roadmap.
Web platform updates
When it comes to the web platform, we have a number of exciting new features in store:
- Support for real time audio, video and data communication between two web browsers. The implications of this are huge and it will enable a lot of interesting real-time communication solutions, richer web games and overall take the web to the next level!
- Completing Web Sockets
- Make Web Sockets match the W3C protocol and API parts. Web Sockets are an interesting solution to offer bi-directional and full-duplex communications over TCP, and it enables pushing things from web servers without the need for a web page to constantly poll it and ask. Low-latency.
- Allows for multiplexing and connection sharing, described more in detail in SPDY Brings Responsive and Scalable Transport to Firefox 11. It’s SSL only, and will offer faster page loads and better scalability for SPDY-enabled web servers. The goal is for end users to have a much faster web experience with all kinds of content, from more regular web sites to high-performing ones in the form of games and media.
- HTTP Pipelining
- Offers a significant performance gain, in particular in regards to high latency connections. Will also help in those cases where SPDY is not enabled/an option and build on existing infrastructure.
- HTTP Pre-connections
- Opening HTTP connections before page loads to improve performance, and is based on the assumption that users will go back to the same sites. A complement to SPDY and HTTP Pipelining in offering a faster user experience on the web.
- DASH WebM
- Brings adaptive streaming of WebM video with DASH, and is outlined in Matroska/WebM in MPEG DASH. Offering proper streaming of video on the web could vastly improve user experience, and allows Firefox to adapt to changing network conditions and resolution changes (for instance, to/from fullscreen viewing).
- Web Apps improvements
- A huge number of features to make Web Apps more integrated into Firefox, to offer users a seamless integration and to complement the Mozilla Marketplace. All improvements are listed in the roadmap for Apps in Firefox.
- Uploading directories and accessing to Local Media Storage
- Gives access to entire directories through File API or to upload them, with their subtrees intact, and additionally gives access to upload, sync or other actions with Local Media. This is intended to give a richer integration with devices out there and make the web platform and experience richer for users.
- CSS Flexbox and CSS Grid
- Implementing support for the latest versions of CSS Flexbox and CSS Grid, where the idea is to offer a number of improved ways of doing layout on the web.
- Capturing keys in fullscreen mode and Mouse Lock API
- With fullscreen support in web browsers, the next step is improve the gaming and interaction experience for building more advanced web sites with key input in fullscreen mode and also being able to use the mouse as a controller instead of as a pointer.
More details on the web platform is available in the Web Platform roadmap.
As you can see, we have, and continue, to work hard on Firefox and the web platform to offers users the best experiences and number of options we can!
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About Robert Nyman [Editor emeritus]