April 4, 2010

Firefox to Get Multi-Process Plugins by the End of This Quarter

Firefox may be the most popular browser around, as long as we leave out Internet Explorer, which probably isn't that fair, but, for some time, it has seemed to be lagging behind Google Chrome when it comes to new features and development momentum. Maybe Chrome's break-neck release cycle makes it look like it's adding new features faster, but Mozilla needs to start picking up the pace.

Firefox developers seem to be realizing this as well and the latest (more or less) official goals for the second quarter are a little more ambitious than usual. One feature that has developers talking is the goal of having at least partial support for Direct2D hardware acceleration on the Windows platform. This would enable Firefox to utilize the graphics card to render some of the content that should translate in a snappier experience for the users.

However, the Direct2D support is only slated for an alpha build, which means that it probably won't make it into the current release schedule of Gecko 1.9.3, the next major iteration of Firefox's web rendering engine. Gecko 1.9.3 is slated for a beta in June and a final release in October. The developers are hoping that Direct2D support will be mature enough to be introduced with a subsequent minor release, Gecko 1.9.3.x. Direct3D support is getting a backseat for now, as the developers are trying to focus on getting Direct2D ready to ship.

Mozilla is not the only one focused on getting better hardware acceleration, Chrome developers have already begun working on a project, ANGLE, to create a Direct3D-based implementation of WebGL, an upcoming web 3D graphics standard to be used with HTML5. The WebGL technology is already proving impressive, helping Googlers run a Quake 2 port inside a browser.

Other features on the Mozilla roadmap are closer to becoming a reality for users, though. One feature that the developers are emphasizing is support for out-of-process plugins, which should be a great boon to the browser's stability. The idea is to have plugins like Adobe Flash run in a separate process from Firefox so that, if and when it crashes, it doesn't take the whole browser down with it. The current goal is to have a final release for the feature by the end of this quarter on both Windows and Linux. Mac users will have to do with a beta version for now.

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