Mozilla execs weren't kidding when they were talking about a rapid release cycle.
The debut of Firefox 5 today, just about three months after the much awaited Firefox 4 was released, testifies to the open source organization's sense of urgency in the face of increased competition from Google and others.
To be fair, Firefox 5 is not as huge an upgrade as version 4 was, and nor should it be. The last major point upgrade took three years to complete. Firefox 3 was made available in the summer of 2008. Firefox 3.5 debuted in June of 2009. Firefox 4 was finished in March of this year.
Version 5.0 does contain significant performance improvements, improved features for development, such as support for CSS animations, and improved discoverability of important features, such as the Do Not Tracking privacy feature. Mozilla was smart to point out that its latest rev is the only web browser to offer this feature on all platforms, including Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Android.
It is also more secure and stable, as would be expected.
The entry of Google (its key benefactor) into its market with the Chrome browser, and now the full Chrome OS, is no doubt concerning for Firefox's worldwide community of developers, users and backers. The departure of a number of development execs didn't help.
Chrome's share of the browser market has leapfrogged to 12.5, as of May 2011, up from 7.2 percent last July.
There's no doubt Google has stolen some of Firefox's share, and share growth the organization probably counted on before Google entered the market. But the world hasn't crumbled for Mozilla the way it did for some projects and companies once Google stepped in. And it likely won't, in part because of the organization's healthy response to competition and because of its established stature in the market, worldwide support for the browser (one of the most successful open source projects ever) and the need choices in the open source market.
I don't question Firefox's future and survivability. It still has more than 20 percent market share.
But I do question how long Mozilla will remain a free standing open source project with Google as its key benefactor. I hope it does. Many corporations can step in and fill Google's funding if necessary.
But is an acquisition in Mozilla's future? We'll see. But in the interim, Mozilla's stepped up development cycle and confident approach to the competition is encouraging.
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