Mozilla's Firefox 4 bags 1M downloads in three hours

New open-source browser off to strong start

Firefox 4 got off to a strong start today, with one million copies of the new browser downloaded in the first three hours.

If it keeps up the early pace, Firefox 4 will easily beat Microsoft's claim that users downloaded 2.4 million copies of its Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) in the first 24 hours of availability last week.

Although Firefox 4's out-of-the-gate download tally was impressive, Mozilla executive Mike Beltzner said that it was behind the launch numbers of Firefox 3.6, which shipped in January 2010. During the first three hours, downloads averaged between 5,000 and 6,000 copies per minute, less than half the 12,000-per-minute pace of the previous version.

At around 9 a.m. PT Beltzner noted that it was just the start of the day on the west coast of the U.S., and noon on the east. He encouraged users to hit Mozilla's download servers.

"What better way to spend your break than by downloading Firefox 4," said Beltzner during a live Webcast hosted by Mozilla.

Mozilla has posted a real-time download calculator on its site.

When the new browser reached one million downloads, Mozilla developers and employees rang cowbells, cheered, and watched as someone dressed in a Firefox mascot costume danced around the room.

Tuesday's release marked the end of more than a year of development by Mozilla, which issued the first "alpha" edition of the browser in February 2010. Firefox 4 was originally scheduled to ship last November, but bugs and other delays forced it to announce in October that it would instead wrap up development early this year.

The code designated as final today was identical to Firefox 4 Release Candidate 2 (RC2), a last-minute update that Mozilla issued last Friday.

Mozilla's Firefox 4 was the second major upgrade shipped by browser makers in just over a week. On March 14, Microsoft launched the final version of Internet Explorer 9 (IE9).

Firefox 4 features a new tab manager, dubbed "Panorama," boasts an overhauled interface that resembles Chrome's minimalist design, and supports GPU acceleration to boost page composition speeds.

Hardware acceleration has become a point of contention between Mozilla and Microsoft. The latter has touted IE9 as the only browser to "fully hardware accelerate the entire Web platform," while Mozilla has criticized its rival for abandoning Windows XP users. IE9 runs only on Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Microsoft today again defended that decision.

"The developer community has been vocal that they want to push the Web forward," a Microsoft spokesman said in an e-mail. "The browser is only as good as the operating system it runs on and a browser running on a ten-year-old operating system tethers the Web to the past. The time has come to stop focusing on lowest common denominator, and to really push what's possible with innovations like full hardware acceleration."

Some Mozilla developers have used stronger words to describe Microsoft's argument that IE9 is the best browser on Windows.

"Microsoft's message that IE9 is the apex of what a browser can do with the GPU is nonsense," said Robert O'Callahan, a New Zealand employee of Novell who works full time on Mozilla's graphics infrastructure. In a post to his personal blog, O'Callahan said, "Microsoft's PR about 'full hardware acceleration' is a myth."

Mozilla technology evangelist Asa Dotzler was even more blunt . "Microsoft, stop making bull**** claims about hardware acceleration," Dotzler titled a post to his personal blog two weeks ago.

Users can download Firefox 4 for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux from Mozilla's site.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Read more about browsers in Computerworld's Browsers Topic Center.

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