Mozilla will accelerate the release of new features for its Firefox browser, dumping its current 18-week development schedule for something nimbler, a company manager told contributors last week.
The firm will also deliver a browser for Windows 10, a reversal of a 2014 decision to stop work on a touch-based version of Firefox for Microsoft’s OS.
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In a pair of messages that Dave Camp, director of Firefox engineering, posted to a mail list, as well as a blog post, Mozilla summarized some of the decisions it reached at an all-hands meeting in Whistler, a Canadian ski resort town north of Vancouver, BC, last week.
“Since Firefox began, the industry has continually evolved how it deploys code to users, and today it isn’t done on an 18-week cycle,” Camp wrote, referring to the current development cycle, which runs new features through three six-week stretches and a trio of browser builds. “We think there are big wins to be had in shortening the time that new features reach users. As Laura Thomson put it in her Whistler presentation — ‘The trains have served us well, but it’s time to build a hyperloop.'”
Camp offered few details about the schedule plans, in large part because they haven’t yet been worked out. Unlike other browser makers, Mozilla relies not only on paid developers but also on a community of volunteers, and typically holds public discussions with that community before it decides how to proceed.
“Some of these questions are going to take a while to answer, and will involve a bunch of concurrent discussions,” Camp said.
Camp also touted a new concept for Firefox development he labeled “Great or Dead.” The idea, he said, was that “every feature in the browser should be polished, functional and a joy to use.” In instances where engineers can’t meet that bar, the feature should be canned or instead passed to a partner.
Mozilla did the latter last month when it baked the Pocket reading list app into Firefox. Some, however, objected to Pocket’s integration, while others argued that the service’s privacy and licensing policies were contrary to Mozilla’s.
In another message to the same development mailing list, Cook said that Mozilla would change how it implements partners’ code. “Folks said that Pocket should have been a bundled add-on that could have been more easily removed entirely from the browser,” Cook wrote. “We tend to agree with that, and fixing that for Pocket and any future partner integrations is one concrete piece of engineering work we need to get done.”
Another high priority, said Cook, was Electrolysis, or “e10s” for short, Mozilla’s attempt to bring multiple processes to Firefox by separating page rendering from content to make the browser more secure and more stable. Rival browsers, including Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), already operate with separate processes.
“One of the first things we need to get right is e10s,” said Cook. “e10s is the only way to get the kind of snappy experience we need to make Firefox feel great. We’re close, but it’s going to take some effort to get over the line.”
Mozilla recently beefed up the engineering staff working on e10s, a project that originated in 2009 but has long languished.
Mozilla’s intent to speed up Firefox’s release schedule was reminiscent of the accelerated tempo Microsoft has pledged for Windows 10 and its bundled Edge browser, which will ship later this month. It wasn’t a complete surprise, then, that Mozilla teased a release of Firefox for Windows 10, saying that the browser, like the one it’s been creating for Apple’s iOS, would ship “soon.”
In March 2014, Mozilla abruptly abandoned work on a touch-enabled Firefox for Windows 8, citing apathetic adoption of the previews and taking a swipe at Microsoft’s bifurcated OS along the way. The cancellation put a match to two years of work by Mozilla’s engineers and designers, although the company said it would not discard the code, but mothball it for possible use down the road.
That time has apparently come.
Mozilla did not provide any further information about Firefox for Windows 10 or iOS, other than to say that it planned to provide an “independent and high-performing alternative to the stock browser” on both platforms.
Mozilla’s work on Firefox will be crucial to the company. The browser remains its most potent weapon — efforts in mobile, particularly Firefox OS, have failed to capture the imagination of users — because search deals cut with the likes of Yahoo are its primary money makers.
Firefox’s user share has plummeted in the last two years, declining by 42% during the period. So far in 2015, however, its share has stabilized around 12% of all browsers worldwide, ending June with 12.1%, up slightly from the month prior. Firefox’s losses have gone almost entirely to Chrome, which could reach the 30% milestone as early as November.