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Firefox 4 Previewed

Speed, functionality, and control represent the characteristics that Mozilla most wants to define Firefox 4, the next major version of the organization's open-source browser.

In a Webcast conducted on Monday, Mozilla's director of Firefox, Mike Beltzner discussed the development roadmap for Firefox 4. He stressed that speed would be a top priority. Speed is also a priority for all the other browser vendors, particularly Google.

Beltzner conceded that Mozilla's focus on specific performance metrics like scroll speed overlooks how users actually perceive speed.

"Fast is a really interesting concept," he said. "We think of fast at Mozilla in terms of the benchmarks that we have. And it turns out that is one way to measure performance but it's not necessarily the way our users experience performance."

User perception of speed can be influenced by changing the order in which pixels are painted on a screen or the way a progress indicator is animated. In other words, speed has a lot to do with design in addition to efficient computation. Without naming Google and what it has done to make the Chrome experience feel so snappy, he all but described Google's design approach, noting that simple user interfaces seem faster.

"We actually looking at making our interface faster just by changing the way it looks," he said.

That means getting rid of disruptions like modal dialog boxes, interruptions at start-up, and updating the browser in the background. (Google has made much of the effectiveness of silent, automatic updates in Chrome.)

Asked by a member of the audience how Firefox will compete with Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 9, Beltzner confronted the elephant in the room more directly, insisting that Firefox 4 will compete very well.

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