Firefox developer preview brings out of process plugins

Mozilla has released Mozilla Developer Preview 3.7 alpha 2.

It’s necessary to first talk about the name. I think this is the first time Mozilla is using this kind of quirky name for a development release, which reflects it is still not clear what we have here or when we’ll have it. The main goal for this release is to test the out of process plugin (OOP) architecture that allows plugins to run on their own process, improving overall Firefox stability and security.

A few weeks ago, Mozilla announced OOP would come as a minor update (code named Lorentz) to the current 3.6 branch. This developer preview however comes from the trunk (Mozilla’s main development code repository) as OOP hasn’t being ported to the branch yet.

OOP is available only on Windows and Linux at this time and you can see it in action via Windows’ process manager where every running plugin is listed as mozilla-runtime.exe. For example the screenshot below shows Silverlight, Flash, and Foxit Reader running in three different processes. Also note that even as I’m playing two YouTube videos and have several PDFs opened at the same time only one process is created for each plugin. So yes, it means if a plugin instance  crashes, all instances do as well.

Windows system monitor showing out of process plugins behavior

Here’s how it looks when a plugin (Foxit Reader here) crashes. As you can see the rest of the page is there, as is Firefox. Just the plugin area is grayed out and you can click on a link to have the page reloaded.

FoxitReader plugin crash

As Mozilla’s Benjamin Smedberg explains, it is possible to force a frequently crashing plugin in process (along with Firefox code) by creating an advanced preference like dom.ipc.plugins.enabled.nppdf32.dll and setting it to false, replacing the last part with the appropriate plugin library name.

I hope this could happen automatically, so if Firefox detects a % of crashes above a certain threshold (say 30%) it will automatically set the preference and save users a headache or two.

Also worth noting in this release are the first steps of the big Windows theme update which looks very good so far.

Also the bugs that prevented correct tab preview from Windows 7 task bar on Firefox 3.6,  seem to be ironed and it works perfectly now.

However, these last two features will most likely come as part of Firefox 4.0 as planned.

Next Firefox major update, “Lorentz”, could be a minor

Mozilla is taking no break this year end, and the Firefox team is actively working on the roadmap for 2010.

According to recent entries in the Mozilla Wiki, the planned features for next year are:

  • Out of process plugins (OOPP), or the ability to run browser plugins (like Flash, Silverlight, Gears) on their own process to enhance stability and prevent application crashes when a plugin goes belly up
  • Updates which don’t interrupt the user
  • More responsive UI
  • Better startup time
  • Jetpacks support
  • Themes updates
  • Weave integration
  • Integrated Developer Tools

These features would be delivered in at least two releases.

According to an ongoing discussion, one of them could surprisingly be a minor release, approximately 3.6.3 or 3.6.4 for the estimated release time frame of March/April 2010. This would mark an important departure from Mozilla’s  typical update/upgrade path which has limited new features to major updates with second digit variations like 3.0 to 3.5, or 3.5 to 3.6, leaving minor updates (3.5.5, 3.5.6, etc.) for security and stability bug fixes. Continue reading Next Firefox major update, “Lorentz”, could be a minor

Find tabs in Firefox awesome bar

The ability to include (and be able to switch to) currently open tabs among the suggestions in the awesome bar is a long time idea that now looks closer to becoming a feature thanks to an experimental build by Blair MC Bride that adds this functionality.

In brief, you enter a few keywords as you usually do to get a suggested site, but currently open tabs that match those terms are listed as well and marked with a tab icon. You can then select either the tab to switch to it, or the URL if you want to load the page in another tab. Continue reading Find tabs in Firefox awesome bar

A peek at Firefox future progress bars

Tab Progress bar extension in actionIf you already know that Firefox 3.7 and beyond will feature page loading progress bars in the tabs themselves (making you a true Firefox fan), you may also want to know there is an extension that lets you try this feature about a year before it becomes generally available.

Tab Progress Bar, developed by Frank Yan, adds just this feature which I found so far to be more informational than the old common progress bar in the status area.

Get Tab Progress Bar from Mozilla Add-ons.

Updated Firefox theme on Linux mockups

Following previous Firefox theme updates for Windows and Mac OS X platforms, here is the mockup for Linux platforms, in this case the Ubuntu distribution.

As with other platforms, the update is planned in a two phase approach.

For Firefox 3.7, plans include combining the stop and reload buttons as their function is mutually exclusive; move the home button to the tab bar, and add a progress bar to each tab instead of the throbber currently features in all platforms. Unlike Windows, however, the menu bar is kept still. Also from other platforms, the keyhole shape for the back and forward icons is in. For cleaner looks, the toolbar separator are also gone. Continue reading Updated Firefox theme on Linux mockups