Firefox 3.5 features new Javascript engine, built-in video

By Elizabeth Montalbano, IDG News Service |  Internet, Firefox, JavaScript

The next version of Firefox will include next-generation features Mozilla hopes will help the browser stand apart from competitors.

Firefox 3.5, which is due out in final release at the end of the month, will allow people to edit digital images from within the browser without need for a third-party application, thanks to a new Javascript engine Mozilla has built for the browser, said Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox at Mozilla, during an interview in New York.

The software also will include the ability to run videos directly in the browser without the need for a third-party viewer or player, and will allow other elements of a Web page to interact with that video content, he said.

As an open-source company, Mozilla aims to give people technologies based on open standards that help them leverage the Web as both a content-delivery engine and platform for developing applications, Beltzner said.

"The more people we see using Firefox as their modern, standards-compliant browser, the better it is for the Web as an ecosystem," he said.

The new Javascript engine, called TraceMonkey, is twice as fast as the one in Firefox 3.0, and allows for image editing from within the browser without need for software such as Adobe Photoshop, Beltzner said. Javascript is a standard scripting language for Web applications.

"We can do this just as well with an online Web application as well as you could on a local application," he said, thanks to TraceMonkey. "Especially for those complex, power-hungry Web applications, people will find Firefox 3.5 a lot faster."

Similarly, the new video capability is based on the open-source video codec called Ogg, maintained by the Xiph.Org Foundation, so it is built on technology freely available for both Web users and developers.

Video written for the Ogg codec can be played within Firefox 3.5 without a separate media player, Beltzner said. Moreover, to develop video to be played within the browser, developers don't have to license proprietary codecs from the vendors that own them, as they do with Flash Player or other proprietary-player content, Beltzner said.

Firefox 3.5 also allows developers to build applications for other parts of a Web page that can interact with the video playing, which has potential for enhancing next-generation Web-based applications such as advertising campaigns as well as enterprise applications, he said.

Currently, video technology is coded separately from other Web-site assets and there is no interaction between them, he added.

For example, if someone is watching a television program on Hulu.com that is written to the Ogg codec and likes a shirt a character is wearing, Firefox 3.5 will allow that person to click on the shirt and see links to sites where it can be purchased, Beltzner said.

Al Hilwa, a program director for analyst firm IDC, said any technology that provides more options for online advertisers and developers to take advantage of the Web as an advertising and content-delivery system are certainly worth a second look and do differentiate Firefox from competitors.

However, he said due to Firefox's scant market share compared to Microsoft's Internet Explorer -- which remains the leading browser -- it's too soon to tell whether anyone will take advantage of Firefox 3.5's new technology.

"I think it remains to be seen whether that’s going to attract various content providers or Web sites that know full well they will only reach 15 percent of [Web] users, because that’s how many people will have Firefox in the short term," he said.

A preview of Firefox 3.5 is available now, but Mozilla delayed the first release candidate that was scheduled for this week until next week to iron out some last-minute bugs. The final release of the browser is still expected at the end of the month.

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