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Firefox: Mozilla Wants a New Development Process, Firefox 4 and the Roadmap

by Abel Avram on Mar 23, 2011 |

The Mozilla team wants to switch Firefox development to a schedule-driven process to speed up releases. Firefox 4 has been recently released with many improvements, while the roadmap outlines plans for versions 5, 6, and 7.

The Mozilla team has used a feature-driven process for Firefox development. That means the product is in development as long as decided features are not yet ready, leading to long release cycles. For example, Firefox 4 was 1 year in development. The team intends to move to a schedule-driven process, according to a blog post published by the company, so they have specific dates when a new version must be released without regard to the fact that some features might not be ready yet. The idea behind the new process is “to provide regular improvements to users without disrupting longer term work.” According to the roadmap, Mozilla plans to ship four versions of Firefox this year, namely 4, 5, 6, and 7. Firefox 4 was just released, the others are going to be released on a 16 weeks cycle.

Like Google, Mozilla is going to use four channels for development. They are called: mozilla-central – nightly builds with all the new features even if they don’t work properly, accessed by approximately 100K users, fx-exp – experimental channel with regular releases (1M users), some features might not work, fx-beta – receiving features that are to be included in the next release (10M users), and Firefox – the public release. Each channel has its own Mercurial repository. A new feature is always introduced to the mozilla-central channel and goes through subsequent channels before being shown in the final product. Features can be disabled along the way and reintroduced later if deemed necessary. The channels and the time release cycle is depicted in the following picture:

image

 

The dark blue color represents features that change channels until they make it into the final product. The other two colors represent features that are not ready in one iteration and need to stay longer in their respective channel. The blog post contains detailed information on what is to be done in each week of the cycle, and how the Firefox team will transition from the feature-driven process to the schedule-driven one.

There are several issues the Firefox team needs to address in order to change the development process, as outlined by the Firefox roadmap:

  • we must provide binary compatibility for Add-ons
  • we must support older branches with maintenance fixes
  • intermittent oranges are unavoidable
  • scaling localization
  • we cannot predict the effect of our changes without large scale beta testing
  • all code needs formal code review
  • every contributor knows how to obtain code review expediently
  • every contributor gets equal say on issues of user interface design and technology prioritization

The long awaited Firefox 4 has been recently released. Some notable new features are:

  • Performance. Firefox 4 is 6 times faster than its predecessor thanks to JagerMonkey JIT compiler, a new JavaScript engine
  • More space dedicated to page rendering
  • App Tabs. Reduce often visited site pages to a small tab that remains visible all the time
  • Panorama. A way of organizing and searching through frequently accessed tabs
  • Reopening closed tabs. Smooth scrolling.
  • Firefox Sync. Synchronize bookmarks, App Tabs, history, passwords and form data across multiple systems
  • Do Not Track. A privacy tool for stopping recording history and storing cookies
  • HSTS – automatic switching to using HTTPS
  • HTML5 support: hardware accelerated graphics, HD video through WebM, 3D graphics, offline storage, touchscreen interface, Mozilla Audio API
  • Protection against Flash, QuickTime and Silverlight plug-in crashes

The roadmap for the future mentions the following new features, among others:

Firefox 5

  • Account Manager
  • Simple Sharing UI
  • UI Animation
  • 64 Bit on Windows
  • Anything that improves responsiveness, stability, UI or is a priority and is ready

Firefox 6

  • Web Applications
  • FasterCache
  • OSX 10.7
  • JS Optimizations
  • Anything that improves responsiveness, stability, UI or is a priority and is ready

The horizon is a bit blurred for Firefox 7, the only features specified by the roadmap being “e10s? deXBLification?”, so we need to wait and see what else will be included in that release.

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