First Look: Firefox 4 Beta 9

On Friday Mozilla released Firefox 4 Beta 9, which will probably be the final beta build - finally! - for this browser before we hit Release Candidate and an official release sometime towards the end of February.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

On Friday Mozilla released Firefox 4 Beta 9, which will probably be the final beta build - finally! - for this browser before we hit Release Candidate and an official release sometime towards the end of February.

Check out the Firefox 4 Beta 9 image gallery!

If you've been keeping up with the beta builds and have been using the Beta 8 release (released December 22) then you're not going to see a lot of changes in Beta 9. In fact, going by the release notes there's only two changes of any importance highlighted by Mozilla:

What about bugs? Well, according to Mozilla quite a few are still lurking. Johnathan Nightingale, the director of Firefox development, says that currently there are 143 hard blocker bugs (bugs that would prevent Firefox from shipping) in the code. However, Nightingale does seems to suggest that there's some flexibility in terms of squashing all the bugs:

Blocker bugs have a rank order. If you can’t have all of them, there are some you’d want more than others, even though every single one of them is a bug we want to fix. That’s healthy. Building software means making those calls. Each bug is evaluated against whether it’s worth holding back the thousands of fixes that have already made it into the Firefox 4 tree. At this point, very few bugs are worth holding back that much awesome.

However, Damon Sicore, the Senior Director of Platform Engineering at Mozilla, believes that there should be another beta, if time allows:

We've worked tremendously hard on Firefox 4, and it's time to ship it.  I'm seeing the same burst of excitement and activity that we've seen in the endgame of every release.  Over the past several days, component leads have again reduced their blockers by identifying hard blockers and those we can live without.  We've around 160 hard blockers remaining, and historically it has taken us six weeks to reach RC once we have 100 blockers left.  We must press hard now. To Finish:   1) We have to reach Release Candidate status as quickly as possible, ideally finishing the hard blockers by the beginning of February and shipping final before the end of February.  We'll need your help to balance these targets against the need to build a high quality product. 2) Bug counts demand another beta. We'll drive the beta bugs to zero and ship another beta. If we can't get them to zero in reasonable time, we'll repeat, deliberately.  It depends on how quickly we can drive down the list of hard blockers that need beta feedback. This is our top development priority, since it pushes the rest of our schedule. 3)  We need *everyone* to help in testing.  Specifically:  Do not disable Flash, Silverlight, or other major plugins as we need as many people testing these as possible.  Windows users:  We need to know if you are affected by hardware acceleration causing crashes or other issues.  Don't just assume that someone else has filed a bug already.  Make sure.  Ask someone if you don't know how.  This is very important.

Squashing nearly 150 bugs in a little over a month ... I'll let you judge if this is optimistic or not.

Some random thoughts on Firefox 4:

  • Nice, fast, robust browser.
  • JägerMonkey JavaScript engine gives Google Chrome a run for its money.
  • The re-tweaked interface is a nice, and welcome, change. Mozilla's solution to removing the menu bar and replacing it with a 'button' will be familiar to Opera users.
  • The revamped Add-on manager is pleasant to use.
  • Sync between desktop and mobile is a nice feature but somewhat clunky.
  • Crash protection makes using Flash, Quicktime and Silverlight a bit nicer to use.

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the Release Candidate.

Editorial standards