Q&A: Firefox’s future

We grill Mike Conner on Firefox, the future of the browser and the internet and everything else

Q&A: Firefox's future

It’s been a testing time for Firefox. In the past 18 months, we’ve seen Apple launch a version of Safari for Windows, Google enter the browser market with Chrome, and Microsoft get its act together with a promising beta of Internet Explorer 8.

Yet, despite the emerging threats, Firefox’s worldwide market share has never been greater, with more than a fifth of people worldwide now using the open-source browser, according to NetApplications. Mozilla isn’t resting on its laurels, however. Here, Firefox architect Mike Connor tells us what the developers have got planned for Firefox 3.2 and beyond.

Q Firefox 3.5 is due for release soon – what are your plans for version 3.2 of the browser?

A We’re looking at where we can incorporate features from Mozilla Labs – 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. We’re feeling rejuvenated around the project. All the stuff we set out to do in the beginning [of Firefox development] is done. What do we do next? Make it faster? That isn’t really a great answer for us.

Q Which Labs features are you working on in particular?

A In terms of pure potential, Ubiquity [a natural language project that allows you to type commands such as “map W1T 4JD” or “email check out this link mike connor” straight into the browser] has the most chance of long-term success. You should be able to just type what you’re thinking [into the address bar]. Right now we have a few hundred Ubiquity commands; we have as many Ubiquity commands as Firefox Extensions. Ultimately, we want to merge those into the Awesome Bar [Firefox’s address bar].

Q At what point will you be satisfied that Ubiquity has achieved its full potential?

A My definition of “satisfied” is I can hook this up to a text synthesiser on my PC and speak commands [into the browser]. That’s probably years away.

Q We find that one of the biggest problems with Firefox is the browser crashes when you have several tabs open. Have you considered borrowing Chrome’s method of allocating a process per tab?

A friend of mine had 250 tabs open at the end of the day

A There are people that have 50 tabs open. A friend of mine had 250 tabs open at the end of the day. When you look at the overhead per tab, you’re using a lot of memory. Shared memory is more efficient. That little bit more memory per process [used by Google’s Chrome] really adds up – it doesn’t scale as well as we’d like. You can, however, do smarter things, like running all your Gmail tabs in one process – so you can have a process per domain.

Q Six months on from the release of Chrome, what is Mozilla’s relationship with Google like now it’s a competitor as well as a partner?

A It hasn’t been the same. We still try to work with Google on Safe Browsing Service [a Firefox add-on that blocks access to potentially dangerous websites]. It remains to be seen how much we can collaborate on a technology basis. There’s no antagonism. We know most of the people working on the Chrome team because they were previously working at Mozilla.

Q Crashes caused by Extension conflicts are another cause for concern when using Firefox – have you considered an Extensions approval process?

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