Mozilla reveals plans for Firefox 3.2
PC Pro exclusive: Text commands typed straight into the address bar and desktop web apps are among the plans for the next version of the open-source browser
Mozilla is planning to include simple-text commands and desktop web apps in the next version of Firefox.
Firefox 3.2 will see the company build the Mozilla Labs project, Ubiquity, into the browser. Ubiquity allows users to type natural language phrases into the browser to perform certain tasks, such as typing "map 10 Downing Street" to instantly see a Google map of that address, or "share-on-delicious" to bookmark the site you're currently visiting on the social news site.
Ubiquity, which is already available in beta form, currently requires users to press Ctrl + Space to enter the text commands, but Mozilla is aiming to integrate the feature into the address bar (or "Awesome Bar") for the next version of the browser.
Firefox architect Mike Connor said it's part of a plan to develop more ambitious features for the browser. "We're looking at where we can incorporate features from Mozilla Labs," he told PC Pro in an exclusive interview. "We're looking for more pure innovation than just incrementally getting better. It's nice to try stuff where we don't know if it's going to work."
"All the stuff we set out to do in the beginning is already done," Connor, who's been working on Firefox since the days it was known as Firebird, added. "What next? Make it faster? That's not really a great answer for us."
Connor said the company has been impressed by the level of interest in Ubiquity already. "The response has been really fantastic," he said. "It's got to the point where we have as many Ubiquity commands as [Firefox] Extensions."
Other new features expected to arrive in Firefox 3.2 are "lightweight theming", which will allow people to customise the design of the browser without downloading separate extensions, and elements of another Labs project called Prism.
Prism is similar to a feature introduced with Google Chrome, which allows you to turn web apps such as Gmail into pseudo desktop apps, which are accessed from the Windows desktop or Start menu.
One Chrome feature Mozilla definitely won't be borrowing, however, is the practice or running each tab in a separate process. Google claims this makes the browser more stable - if one tab crashes it doesn't bring the others down with it - but Mozilla claims this comes at the expense of unnecessary memory usage.
"When you look at the overhead per tab, you're using a lot of memory," he said. "Shared memory is more efficient. That little bit more memory [per process] really adds up."
However, Firefox 3.2 could follow parts of the Chrome memory model. "You can do smarter things like running all your Gmail tabs in one process - so you can have a process per domain," Connor claimed.
Mozilla, which is still struggling to fix the bugs in the forthcoming Firefox 3.1, says it isn't sure of when Firefox 3.2 will launch - or even if the company will launch 3.2 or go straight to version 4.
"I don't think the next release will be Firefox 4," Connor said. "We're currently deciding whether we are going to try and get another release out this year or head for Spring next year."