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Mozilla picks up Firefox development pace with 'sprint' updates

Slates pair of minor upgrades in next six months; major update coming in late 2010

September 16, 2009 03:56 PM ET

Computerworld - Mozilla has switched to a quick-paced "sprint" cycle for Firefox that it hopes will bring new features to users faster, the company's browser architect said today.

"We decided we not only need a way to be more nimble, but that we have a lot of great improvements we want to do every week and every month," said Vlad Vukicevic, Firefox architect.

"That was the thinking behind the 'sprint' development, that we have a bunch of projects that we assign to one or two people, who then have two to three weeks to maybe finish [the feature] or at least get some data on it," Vukicevic said. "Then we can decide if we want to do another sprint."

The change means that the next two Firefox upgrades will be minor updates that are pushed through development in a matter of a few months, a big difference from the last two versions of the browser, which included major changes to the interface or the underlying technology, or both.

According to Mozilla's current schedule, for example, Firefox 3.6, the follow-on to June's version 3.5, will ship in the October-to-November time frame. The next update, Firefox 3.7, is now set to release around March 2010.

The major update, tentatively tagged as Firefox 4.0, won't launch until late 2010, perhaps in the October-to-November time period.

Even with a roadmap, however, Vukicevic said a lot remains provisional. "The only thing we're certain of is that we'll do at least one release a year from now on," he said. "But whether there's a second release this year, for example, that's up in the air."

Mozilla last upgraded Firefox in June, when it released Firefox 3.5, an update that in 2008 had been cast as a minor upgrade, but which grew beyond that definition as developers ladled on more features, including the new TraceMonkey JavaScript engine. Hard-to-quash bugs also contributed to delays.

Picking up the development pace came out of Mozilla's experience with Firefox 3.0 and 3.5. "Back when we were doing Firefox 3.0, we were adding so much new stuff that it was very hard to wrap up the release," admitted Vukicevic.

Although Vukicevic denied that the shorter schedules were a direct response to heated competition among browser makers, his explanation hinted as much. "The schedules are driven by (the fact) that we want to get new features into the hands of our users as fast as possible," he said.

So far this year, Microsoft, Apple, Google and Opera Software have all shipped new versions of their browsers, putting the battle back into the browser wars. Since Firefox shipped 3.5, Google has delivered Chrome 3.0 and Opera has launched verson 10 of its browser.



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