Mozilla launches 2010's last Firefox 4 beta

Beta 8 renders JavaScript about 5% faster than predecessor

Mozilla shipped Firefox 4 Beta 8, the last preview it will release this year before it makes a run toward a final version in 2011.

Originally slated to appear last month, then delayed until December, Beta 8 of the open-source browser first appeared today, a day later than planned, on Mozilla's official download site and as updates for existing preview users.

The newest beta includes simplified setup for Firefox Sync, Mozilla's bookmark, password and open tabs synchronization service; additional Windows and Mac graphics card support for WebGL, the under-development standard for 3-D graphics rendering; and a revamped extension manager that silently updates any installed add-ons .

According to Mozilla, Beta 8 also sports more than 1,400 bug fixes or changes from its predecessor, which launched six weeks ago .

Although Mozilla once said it would wrap up work on Firefox 4 this year, delays this fall forced the company to push the final release date into 2011 . Currently, Mozilla plans to produce at least two more betas -- it won't finalize a timetable for Beta 9 until after Jan. 1 -- and then a series of "release candidates" before greenlighting the code.

Beta 8 also was slightly faster than Beta 7 in rendering JavaScript.

According to quick tests run by Computerworld using the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark suite, Firefox 4 Beta 8 is about 5% faster than its forerunner.

Mozilla had previously added other major features to Firefox 4, ranging from a new JavaScript JIT (Just In Time) compiler, dubbed "JagerMonkey," in Beta 7; hardware acceleration in Beta 5 last September; and a new tab manager, dubbed "Panorama," in Beta 4 a month earlier.

Alongside Beta 8 for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, Mozilla today also issued an updated beta of its mobile browser, which runs on Android-powered smartphones. Changes in the mobile edition of Firefox were more noticeable, and included revisions to the user interface, changes to the add-on discovery process, and like its desktop cousin, streamlined Firefox Sync setup.

Firefox 4 Beta 8 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux from Mozilla's site.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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