Desktop web apps and snappiness top next Firefox (Namoroka) plans

Following the tradition of using national park names as code names for Firefox releases, Mozilla has chosen Namoroka, located in Madagascar, for the development cycle that started a few months ago when Mozilla decided to branch the current Firefox 3.5 (Shiretoko) and proceed with the development of the next release in the trunk (Minefield).

The next Firefox has been assigned version number 3.6 (and trunk builds are already labeled this way) but it is very unlikely it will remain the final release number, specially considering the many features and improvements listed in the first Namoroka feature plan drafts, posted by Mike Beltzner, Firefox product director.

Like in previous development cycles planning starts, goals and features are listed prioritized.

First in line:

  • Performance: get a perceivably better browser startup and tab creation times (reduced in at least 50ms), and improve overall responsiveness by adding animations for actions like tab creation, moving, bookmarking, etc. Chrome (and Mac OS X before it) has proved that animations can really make a difference on how snappy a browser feels, and it was even considered for inclusion in Firefox 3.5, now almost ready to ship. It’s also worth noting that Mozilla is planning to implement animations for XUL, at the platform level, so not only Firefox but all XUL-based applications (Thunderbird, SeaMonkey, Flock, Songbird, etc.) would benefit from it.
  • A long time requested feature: theme and extensions activation without restarting is also planned for this release, at least partially. The draft vaguely mentions “light themes” and “light extensions” which could mean just anything like extensions without chrome or a cross platform component (XPCOM).
  • Better user interface for file uploading. Would be a welcomed addition as single an multiple file uploading becomes more and more prevalent and the old click and browse way just doesn’t cut it any more. Drag drop upload, a Firefox extension, lets you do this by just dragging and dropping files, and even automatically adds more attachment fields in Gmail, if needed.
  • Merge common site specific preferences with the site button.
  • An option to convert web apps into desktop web apps, which basically means bringing Mozilla Lab’s Prism into Firefox, a long time idea available as a Firefox extension. Far superior than Chrome’s desktop web app implementation. You can get it at Mozilla Add-ons.
  • Use of Aero Glass so Windows Vista and 7 users finally get translucent toolbars. Aero Peek support (in Firefox case, the ability to see tab thumbnails in Windows 7 task bar) is also mentioned but not prioritized yet. Though, after using Windows 7 beta for a few weeks now I believe it’s an obvious P1.

In second place priority-wise:

  • Session management, or the ability to save a set of tabs and their state so you can reopen it at will.
  • Add some file management capabilities to the download manager (move, copy, delete).
  • Taskfox, a project introduced a couple of weeks ago that aims to deliver some of Ubiquity command-line abilities to perform certain common tasks to the main Firefox code.
  • A revisited, more powerful/helpful new tab page.
  • An about:me page which would provide some basic statistics about your own web browsing habits based on your history. This was also considered for Firefox 3.5.
  • Identity management is once again in line for inclusion. There’s no detail on what exactly would be implemented but CardSpace and OpenID were both listed in Firefox 3 feature list a couple of years ago.
  • On Mac OS X, it would use the native spell checker. In the same line, Keychain (global password manager), and AppleScript (macro language) support would also be added but has not been prioritized yet. Camino users have enjoyed these features for a while so it should make it easier to move some code to Firefox tree.

Mozilla is estimating a 10 months release cycle, so we can expect to see Namoroka go final around May 2010.

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