Firefox 3.6 Beta Updated

Mozilla last week issued a fifth beta of Firefox 3.6 rather than move on to a release candidate, a decision that will push the final code ship date into early 2010, a company executive said Friday.

Firefox 3.6 Beta 5 was released as an update to current testers early Thursday, and can also be installed by others who download it from Mozilla's sit

Artwork: Chip Taylor
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Beta 5 includes nearly 130 fixes from the last beta , which Mozilla released in late November. The fixes resolved numerous crash bugs, including a major crash problem in the Mac edition's TraceMonkey JavaScript rendering engine , and other bugs in Firefox's private browsing mode, the automatic password retrieval component and the fast startup module.

The release of the new beta was up in the air last Monday, when Mozilla said it was only one option for the week. "Beta 5 builds are being tested by QA now, targeting a Thursday release unless we get to RC [Release Candidate] first," the company said in a weekly status meeting . "We are really, really close to being code-complete & only need 8 more patches and a TraceMonkey merge. If we can go to build today or tomorrow, QA will scrap Beta 5 and we'll release RC to the beta audience ASAP."

The appearance of Beta 5 means that Mozilla has pushed back both the Release Candidate -- typically the last preview milestone -- and the final, finished software.

"Mozilla released a fifth version of Firefox 3.6 to its more than 600,000 beta users as part of its continuing program to gather feedback and get fixes into the hands of the people evaluating the preview," said Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox, in an e-mail Friday. "We expect to be able to issue a release candidate before the end of this year, but we'll likely hold off on the official release until early in the new year."

As recently as September, Mozilla was planning to deliver the final of Firefox 3.6 by early November. Subsequently, Mozilla began using a by-year's-end window to describe its release plans for Firefox 3.6.

Such delays are not unusual. Last year, for example, Mozilla 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.

Firefox controls about 25% of the global browser market, according to the most recent data from U.S.-based metrics company Net Applications. Over the past week, however, Firefox's share slipped slightly as users tried out Google 's Chrome, which made beta for Mac and Linux on Dec. 8.

Firefox 3.6 Beta 5 can be downloaded from Mozilla's Web site for Windows, Mac and Linux. People using an earlier preview of Firefox 3.6 should see upgrade notices shortly if they haven't already.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter @gkeizer , send e-mail at gkeizer@ix.netcom.com or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed .

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