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Firefox 3.6 nears release

After five betas Mozilla prepares RC1 of new browser.

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Mozilla has shipped a release candidate build of Firefox 3.6. The final release follows a run of betas that started in early November, features nearly 100 bug fixes from the fifth beta that Mozilla issued 17 December. The fixes resolved numerous crash bugs, including one that brought down the browser when it was steered to Yahoo's front page.

Another fix removed a small amount of code owned by Microsoft from Firefox. The code was pointed out by a Mozilla contributor, and after digging, another developer found the original Microsoft licence agreement. "Amusingly enough, it's actually really permissive. Really the only part that's problematic is the agreement to 'include the copyright notice ... on your product label and as a part of the sign-on message for your software product,'" wrote Kyle Huey on Bugzilla, Mozilla's bug- and change-tracking database. Even so, others working the bug said the code needed to be replaced with Mozilla's own.

RC1 may be the last preview before Mozilla declares the edition done. "Should everything run smoothly during testing this is what will be released to our users as the official version after a beta period," noted a page on the Mozilla wiki dedicated to Firefox 3.6 RC1 testing.

If past practice is any clue, the final of Firefox 3.6 could be ready for downloading as early as 18 January.  Last summer, Mozilla delivered the release candidate of Firefox 3.5 on 20 June, then launched the browser 10 days later . In 2008, the window between the last release candidate of Firefox 3.0 and the final was 13 days.

RC1 was once planned for release in October 2009, with a final Firefox 3.6 scheduled for the following month. But Mozilla delayed Firefox 3.6 as it struggled to make deadlines, then decided 17 December to issue a fifth beta rather than push for a release candidate. Even so, Mozilla maintained that it would get RC1 out by the end of 2009.

Mozilla has had trouble making its development schedules. In 2008, the company originally shot for a late-2008 release of Firefox 3.5, but eventually postponed the ship date to mid-2009 in order to add features and quash troublesome bugs in the then-new TraceMonkey JavaScript engine.

Among the new features in Firefox 3.6 are built-in support for the scaled-down browser skins dubbed "Personas;" warnings of out-of-date plug-ins ; support for new CSS, DOM and HTML 5 technologies; support for full-screen video embedded with the video HTML tag; and support for the Web Open Font Format (WOFF).

TraceMonkey has also been refreshed to boost JavaScript performance, something Mike Shaver, Mozilla's chief engineer, bragged about on Twitter. "I am excited about upcoming JS [JavaScript] engine work, and I don't care who knows it," Shaver tweeted .

As is usual for a Firefox preview, not all of the available browser's add-ons are compatible with the release candidate. According to Mozilla, about 75 percent can be used with Firefox 3.6.

Firefox controls about 25 percent of the global browser market, according to the most recent data from US-based metrics company Net Applications. But while Firefox's usage share remained flat last month, Google's Chrome surged into third place, pushing Apple 's Safari into the No. 4 slot for the first time.

Firefox 3.6 RC1 can be downloaded from Mozilla's website for Windows, Mac and Linux . Users running a beta of Firefox 3.6 should see upgrade notices shortly if they haven't already.



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