Mozilla freezes Firefox 3.0 Beta 4

But with blocking-bug count above 60, a fifth beta is likely

For the second time in the past four weeks, Mozilla Corp. has announced a "code freeze" for a beta version of Firefox 3.0 -- this time, Beta 4 -- as it prepares another public release of the open-source browser.

The freeze was announced late Tuesday. By midday Wednesday, however, Mozilla was saying that a fifth beta might be necessary.

"We reviewed the remaining number of P1 [Priority 1] and P2 [Priority 2] blockers on our lists and decided that we would go ahead with tonight's Firefox 3 Beta 4 code freeze and then bake nightly builds for a few days before handing off the code to the build and quality assurance teams," said Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's interface designer, in a message posted to the company's developer center.

Between now and Friday, Beltzner continued, developers will be looking over the blocking bugs to decide which, if any, require another beta release and which would prevent the final release of Firefox 3.0 if they went unfixed.

Meanwhile, Mike Schroepfer, the company's vice president of engineering, said a fifth beta was a possibility. "We are looking deeply at the open issues to determine whether another Beta is needed," Schroepfer said in an e-mail. "We should know this by next Monday."

The day before, Schroepfer seemed to be leaning toward another beta so developers would have time to quash potential blockers. "As of this writing, there are 66 P1 bugs, which implies we either will not meet code freeze tonight or will need to add another milestone," he said hours before Mozilla held its weekly status meeting on Firefox 3.0. "Given the number of improvements between Beta3 and today's nightly, I'd strongly prefer we meet the freeze and talk about doing an additional beta."

That's what Mozilla developers decided to do. "There are already over 850 improvements in Beta 4, so we want to get those changes out for wider testing as soon as possible," Schroepfer said.

He also pushed for releasing Firefox 3.0 soon. "Given the amazing positive feedback and the fact that we have [500,000] daily active users of Firefox 3 (with basically hockey-stick growth of usage) I think we should push to final as fast as possible," he wrote in a message posted to the mozilla.devplanning newsgroup early yesterday.

Previously, Schroepfer had refused to specify a release date for the final version of Firefox 3.0, although he had pointed to early March as the goal for Beta 4. Another beta would push out final delivery of a finished Firefox by approximately four weeks, based on the last interval between previews.

Mozilla froze Firefox 3.0 at Beta 3 on Jan. 29 and released that build two weeks later, on Feb. 12.

Firefox currently accounts for about 17% of the browser usage share, according to Net Applications Inc., an Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Web measurement company. The most recent data available, for January, pegged Firefox 3.0's part of the browser market at just 0.1%, in comparison with Firefox 2.0's 16.02%.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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