Robust Firefox 4 prepped for release next month

Mozilla's most recent Firefox 4 beta -- version 9 -- continues to improve vis a vis Chrome, the other open source browser.Most notably, beta 9 -- which was released on January 14 -- offers a faster startup time and bookmarking and overall performance gains.

Mozilla's most recent Firefox 4 beta -- version 9 -- continues to improve vis a vis Chrome, the other open source browser.

Most notably, beta 9 -- which was released on January 14 -- offers a faster startup time and bookmarking and overall performance gains. That, combined with the Panorama feature and full HTML5 support, gives Firefox the firepower it needs to compete against Google's rival and, of course, Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

The first beta debuted in June. There have been nine beta releases and it is not clear if there is one or two more betas coming or if the next stage is release candidate: the number of remaining blockers will determine that, and an announcement on that could come today.

Developers say the final version is set for release late February.

As that draws near, testers are applauding the performance boosts, user interface improvements and the new Panorama tab view/organizing feature. On the down side, some have griped about lackluster Linux support.

Firefox 4 is a major upgrade and will help Mozilla preserve its sizable market share.  Several of the features embodied in the new release -- particularly the startup speed and Panorama feature -- are the ones that tempted me, and countless others, I suppose, to use Chrome.

There's no doubt that Firefox will face increasing competition from Chrome but version 4 is the most powerful response to Google's open source rival to date.

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