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Firefox 3.1 beta cycle pushed back to pack in more features

 Mozilla has decided to extend development time of  Firefox 3.1 by four weeks to expand the scope of features in the point release.

 Mozilla has decided to extend development time of  Firefox 3.1 by four weeks to expand the scope of features in the point release. With that, the team expects the code for beta 1 to freeze September 30 and the code freeze for beta 2 to fall on November 4, said Mike Beltzner, a Firefox development leader.

It’s not clear if the decision to include the new features will move the final release to early 2009.  The Firefox team has stated that the 3.1 release would ship in either late 2008 or early 2009 so this does not constitute a slip. “Beta 1 schedule is still tracking and code freeze [is scheduled for ] September 30,” said Mike Beltzner. “Adding the well scoped features for beta 2 looks like we’re aiming for code freeze in the first week of November. “

During its weekly meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mozilla identified several features now slated to make it into the 3.1 beta 2 including private browsing and several improvements to the tabs functionality.  Firefox 3.1 beta 2, for example, is expected to offer drag and drop for detaching tabs to ease the process of moving tabs from one window to another.

The Mozilla team is also considering integrating other tab features into beta 2. These include tab close animations, showing the tab strip or tab bar by default, a Tab Search function and adding a new tab button to expose more of the tab functionality available in Firefox. Here’s what one Mozilla developer had to say about the a new tab button: 

“The problem is that not everyone knows about the keyboard shortcuts or that tabs even exist. An optional new tab icon in the tab bar would be brilliant because it could introduce new users to a feature they may have never seen before. SeaMonkey has it and Mozilla had it, and the people I know who still use IE use the new tab button. Not many people use keyboard shortcuts and I think putting a new tab button is a strong necessity. I guess the only popular browser not having a new tab button is Firefox.” The decision to add more features into Firefox version 3.1 follows the beta release of Google's open source Chrome browser earlier this month.

Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 will also offer the ability to preview all tabs, among other notable features listed on the Firefox site including performance gains for Places and startup, drag and drop improvements in the library, polish to the password manager and SQLite migration and a tag autocomplete function for the add bookmark dialog box.

In addition to private browsing and tab improvements, the other beta due in early November is expected to feature a refresh of the Windows default toolbar, a video front end, the ability to use asynchronous queries for awesomebar lookups. Still, not all of these features are set in stone for version 3.1.

Late last week, Firefox developer Michael Shaver noted that the team is adding more features into version 3.1 because of increasing competition and the faster-than-expected pace of development of Firefox 3.1.

"There has obviously been a lot of discussion of browsers of late, around Mozilla and around the industry.  Probably the most energetic time we've seen in a decade, if not ever, and it's a tremendous validation of all the  hard work that people have put into Mozilla, and making the browser market more exciting than any monopoly could be. One aspect of the discussion is obviously how Firefox fits into the mix, and what we're seeing is that it fits very well.  The improvements we made in Firefox 3 around performance, security, web platform capabilities, OS integration and even something as "simple" as navigation have resonated very strongly with new and existing users, the press, and developers. "

Shaver added:

"Firefox 3.1 is intended to continue with those themes, to pick up things we had to leave out of FF3.0, and to react to things we've learned in bringing those advances to a skyrocketing percentage of Firefox's coming-up-on-200 [million] users.  And, of course, to continue to learn from what people are doing in other browsers, add-ons, and web applications. " Along the way, we've been pleasantly surprised as a couple of "longer term" projects have shown that they're likely to be ready sooner than we had expected ……   TraceMonkey's early results have led us to some promising plans for DOM and other optimizations in addition to lots of head room on pure JS, and the pace of our private browsing implementation has given us new options for our 3.1 work.  We've also had some great feedback on user interface elements in Firefox 3 that we want to incorporate quickly, and of course we're always watching the competition," Shave r wrote. "Because of the strength of Firefox 3.0, we're not in a rush to get a product to market, and so we've started to look at what we might be able to do with  one more "feature cycle".  We're still hammering out the details, but we know that there is a core list of features that we'll be looking to land between beta 1 and beta 2."