Mozilla readies Alpha for Firefox upgrade

The Mozilla Foundation is preparing to release the first alpha version of its next Firefox Web browser within the next few days. The release, called Deer Park Alpha 1, is targeted to Firefox's base of testers and will include developer-focused features such as support for additional Web standards, extensions improvements and a way to report incompatible Web pages, Mozilla officials said. Deer Park also serves as a sneak peek into Mozilla's plans for the full Firefox upgrade, due for a broad public beta later this summer. Firefox 1.1 is slated to give users additional pop-up blocking tools and a more visible process for installing Firefox updates, including security fixes, said Asa Dotzler, Mozilla's release coordinator. "The changes are geared toward the developer community," he said of the alpha. "There's not a lot of things that you will see in front of the end user. A lot of the improvements are behind the scenes." Dotzler expects the Firefox 1.1 alpha release to be available after the Memorial Day weekend, though he said there was a slight chance it could come out as early as Thursday since the code is complete. The alpha release is built on the newest version of Mozilla's Gecko rendering engine, Dotzler said. That will provide a performance boost to Firefox as well as add support for such standards as CSS3 (Cascading Style Sheets Level 3) and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), Dotzler said. For SVG, which is a next-generation method of rendering graphics on the Web, Firefox 1.1 is supporting a subset of the SVG Full 1.1 specification. One of Firefox's selling points is that its community of developers created add-ons for it. Those so-called extensions have grown from about 100 when Firefox 1.0 was launched in November to about 650 today, Dotzler said. In the alpha of Firefox 1.1, Mozilla is expanding the options for extension developers. It will include additional APIs for managing user style sheets and overriding browser proxy configurations and support extensions using translucent windows in their interface, Dotzler said. One extension being included by default in the Firefox alpha is called Reporter. It lets testers report to Mozilla Web pages that don't render correctly in Firefox. From those reports, Mozilla will determine whether code tweaks are needed to improve Firefox's compatibility or whether the foundation should reach out to the site about following Web standards to render in Firefox, Dotzler said. "We want our 1.1 users to never encounter sites that are broken," he said. "If we find in our alphas and beta releases that there's enough data and we make big headway, then we may not need to ship [Reporter] in the final release." One end-user feature testers will notice in Deer Park is the more prominent placement of the option for clearing all privacy settings, such as Web history and cookies, Dotzler said. But Mozilla is planning to include most of the significant features for end users in a Firefox 1.1 beta. For that release, Mozilla is working to counter pop-up ads that can appear for Firefox users. Though Firefox 1.0 blocks pop-up ads, the developers of the pop-ups have begun using Firefox plug-ins such as Macromedia Flash to initiate the ads, Dotzler said. Mozilla has an extension that aggressively blocks all pop-ups generated from plug-ins, but it is testing approaches that still allow legitimate pop-ups from plug-ins. "We're going to take our time and do it right, but we expect a comprehensive solution with Firefox 1.1," Dotzler said. Mozilla also has faced some criticism over the way Firefox handles software updates, particularly when the foundation issues updates to fix critical security issues. For example, while Firefox 1.0 has a software update feature, it lacks the ability to patch portions of the browser rather than reinstalling the full browser. With Firefox 1.1, Mozilla plans to fix that and also make the software update notifications more visible to users, Dotzler said. UKFast is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

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