March 18, 2011, 4:01 PM — Once Firefox 4 is out the door next week, Mozilla will likely shift to a faster development cycle for its browser, one that resembles the way Google rolls out a constant line of updates for Chrome.
But don't ask Mozilla if it's copying its rival.
"No one invented fast," said Johnathan Nightingale, director of Firefox development, when asked whether Mozilla's new faster-paced scheme was a response to Google. "We're developers, we want to get our features out there as quickly as possible."
According to a detailed proposal published earlier this week, Mozilla is considering a multi-channel scheme where new features are added to a series of versions -- nightly, experimental, beta and Firefox -- each of which feeds into the next-most-stable build until a polished edition is released.
The pace should result in a new Firefox every 16 weeks, meaning that Mozilla will ship Firefox 5 and 6, perhaps even Firefox 7, during 2011.
Google uses a similar process to continually feed features to Chrome, relying on a four-channel line of development: nightly, dev, beta and stable. The result? A new version of Chrome every six to eight weeks.
Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC, praised Mozilla's plan. "It is great to see Mozilla looking hard at streamlining their development to achieve a faster release cycle," said Hilwa. "There are a lot of benefits to smoothing and streamlining the development process to release it from the tyranny of dates."
But Mozilla's clearly reacting to the pressure from Chrome, Hilwa added. "Chrome's development model has been a successful experiment in terms of getting production releases with improvements and new features out quickly and much faster than in the past," Hilwa said. "This is causing waves in the industry, specifically for direct competitors."
The change Firefox users would immediately notice under the faster scheme is that new features will regularly appear in the browser, rather than waiting for months while work on the next edition is completed.
"Each release happens regardless of whether a given feature is ready, and releases are not delayed to wait for a feature to stabilize," said the planning document, which was posted by Firefox developer Rob Sayre. "The goal of the process is to provide regular improvements to users without disrupting longer term work."
"'Switch to tabs' was done in September," said Nightingale, referring to a new feature that will debut in Firefox 4 when it launches next Tuesday. "That killed [the feature's developers], having to wait."