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Mozilla Firefox 3.1 beta available to public

Updated browser offers performance boost

Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 is now available to the general public, but Mozilla has disabled one of its most-touted improvements.

The open-source browser developer said Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 features improvements in "performance, web compatibility and speed", while a number of new tools are also included.

Beta 1 features a new tab-switching shortcut that mimics an existing Firefox add-on called Ctrl-Tab, and the new geolocation API that uses third-party services to pinpoint the user's location and feed that information to websites and services.

Mozilla's Geolocation API (application programming interface) has been prominent since last week, when the company's research labs rolled out a new extension, Geode, for Firefox 3.0 that reproduces the feature built into Firefox 3.1. At the time, Mozilla's director of Firefox, Mike Beltzner, argued that the API, though of obvious use in the still-under-development mobile version of Firefox, will also be important on netbooks, the ultra-light, less-expensive laptops that are becoming more popular.

Mozilla Firefox 3.0 review

But Mozilla did not enable its new TraceMonkey JavaScript engine in Beta 1; it's still switched off by default.

TraceMonkey, which Mozilla began talking up in late August, boosts rendering speeds up to 40 times over those of Firefox 3.0, which relies on an older engine. Mozilla started working on TraceMonkey at the beginning of the summer, and wrapped up enough of the initial work to slide it into the ‘nightlies', the versions of Firefox that are updated daily for testing and development purpose.

Mozilla officials were not available late Tuesday to explain why they decided to leave TraceMonkey turned off.

Users can, however, enable TraceMonkey themselves by typing ‘about:config' in the address bar, entering ‘javascript.options.jit.content' in the Filter field, then setting that to ‘True' by double-clicking the item. Firefox 3.1 must be restarted for the change to take effect.

At one point, Mozilla had hinted it would roll out just a single beta during the fast-track development of Firefox 3.1, but it recently added a second beta - and several more weeks to the schedule - to squeeze in several other features. Only last week did Mozilla settle on what it will drop into Firefox 3.1 Beta 2.

According to Mozilla's current schedule, it will freeze Beta 2's code on November 4, with a likely release one to two weeks after that. It has not committed to a ship date for Firefox 3.1, but has said it will shoot for a late-2008 or early-2009 release.

Firefox accounted for 19.5 percent of the browsers used during September, Net Applications recently reported. Its share that month, however, was down slightly from August.

Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux from Mozilla's site.


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