Sunday, April 21, 2024

What’s Next for Firefox? Electrolysis

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With Firefox 3.6 now out the door, what new features are coming next for Mozilla’s open source browser?

Starting with Firefox 3.6, Mozilla developers are now set to more rapidly iterate and integrate features as part of its ‘Lorentz’ branch. With Lorentz, Mozilla developers are aiming to include new features faster while maintaining backwards compatibility and overall browser security and stability.

One of the key new features that the Lorentz branch of Firefox 3.6 will aim to include is a technology that rival browser Google Chrome helped to popularize – out of process plugins.

With out of process plugins, browser plugins like Flash are sandboxed and isolated by the browser. The official project name at Mozilla for the effort is called Electrolysis.

“You actually have two processes one for Firefox and one in which plugins will run,” Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox said. “It means if your plug-in crashes, Firefox will not crash as an entire application.”

While Mozilla competes against Google Chrome in terms of browser market share, both Firefox and Chrome (via the Chromium project) are open source efforts. As such, Firefox development can potentially benefit from the code that is already used by Chrome.

“We’ve been able to leverage it (Google’s code) in some cases directly in terms of the dispatch mechanism,” Beltzner said. “We’ve actually taken that code wholesale, but integrating that into Mozilla means that it’s not just a drag and drop operation.”

Beltzner added that Mozilla developers have been working with Google developers and have learned from them.

A Firefox task manager?

With Google Chrome, users get a separate browser task manager which enables them to see how much memory a particular process or plugin is consuming. Beltzner noted that Firefox Lorentz isn’t likely to have a separate task manager but users will get some monitoring capabilities behind the scenes.

“In Firefox 3.6, one of the new features is troubleshooting information with the ‘about:support’ command,” Beltzner said. “It tells you things like which preferences you’ve changed. Eventually we’ll be able to put things like how much memory and CPU you’re plugins are using.”

The general idea behind about:support is to provide browser metrics to help Firefox users troubleshoot issues.

As to when out-of-process plugins will appear in Firefox, users will likely not have to wait long at all. Beltzner commented that a beta version of Firefox Lorentz with out-of-process plugins could be out as soon as early February.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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