Mozilla released Firefox 8 today, a version that weeds out some add-ons and that will shoulder more responsibility for the organization’s new fast-development process.
Giving the user control over the Web experience has been a longstanding Mozilla priority, and Firefox 8 (download for Windows | Mac | Linux | Android) takes a new step here. With earlier versions, third-party software could extend Firefox with new features–Skype’s tool for highlighting phone numbers for easy online calling, for example. With Firefox 8, though, third-party add-ons will be disabled by default.
“These add-ons installed by third parties present a number of problems: they can slow down Firefox start-up and page loading time, they clutter the interface with toolbars that often go unused, they lag behind on compatibility and security updates, and most importantly, they take the user out of control of their add-ons,” said Mozilla programmer Justin “Fligtar” Scott in a blog post about the feature.
Mozilla also is working to make sure that people really want the add-ons that already are installed. A dialog box will appear once after the new browser is installed that lets people select which add-ons to enable or disable. Those the user installed will be enabled by default, but those installed by third parties will be disabled by default.
Add-ons have long been a competitive asset for Firefox, but Safari, Chrome, and Opera now have their own versions of the technology. And add-ons can be a disadvantage, too, if they aren’t updated at the same pace as Mozilla now updates Firefox or that aren’t covered by Mozilla’s automatic compatibility testing system.
The rapid-release process, pioneered by Google’s Chrome and in use with Firefox since earlier this year, yields a new browser every six weeks. Among the implications: Differences from one version to the next are smaller, new features can be brought to users without waiting a year or more; delaying a feature carries a lower penalty and doesn’t hold up other features; and slow-moving business customers and add-on programmers have had a harder time keeping up.
The rapid-release transition caused a lot of indigestion, but Mozilla is committed to it. A major course correction, though, appears likely with the proposal of the Extended Support Release version that’s updated every 30 weeks.
Updating Firefox rapidly is a priority in part because new Web features developing rapidly and the browser market is arguably more competitive than ever. Firefox’s previously steady growth in usage has plateaued with the arrival of Chrome, and Mozilla is at a grave disadvantage in the mobile browser market, where Firefox isn’t installed anywhere by default.
A lot of Firefox users remain on version 3.6, which predated the rapid-release era. That’s likely to change, though: On November 17, Mozilla plans to flip the switch for recommending Firefox 3.6 users update. Since many people typically follow the upgrade recommendation, that’ll mean Firefox 8 will be the introduction many Firefox users will have to the rapid-release philosophy.
Mozilla isn’t ceasing support of Firefox 3.6 yet, though. Today, it also plans to release the latest maintenance version, 3.6.24.