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Firefox 3 Public Beta Due In Spring

New features will include standardized support for running Web apps like mail and office suites while disconnected from the Internet, and support for Places, a redesigned bookmarks and history manager.

Mozilla Corp. plans to release public beta of Version 3 of its Firefox browser in late spring, with added features to include standardized support for running Web apps like mail and office suites when disconnected from the Internet. The new version will also offer Places, a revamped bookmarks and history manager that was bumped from the current version of Firefox, Version 2.

Mozilla expects to ship the final version of Firefox 3, codenamed Gran Paradiso, in the autumn, said Brendan Eich, chief technical officer for Mozilla.

Users of Web applications like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, or Google Apps Premier Edition will be able to download their data, disconnect from the Internet, and work offline, if the application publishers make a few simple changes to their code to comply with Firefox 3's APIs for running applications offline.

Offline operation would help users looking for alternatives to expensive Microsoft Office and other desktop applications. Many vendors offer online, browser-based alternatives to Office, including the previously mentioned Google apps, as well as software from companies like Zoho and Ajax13. But the problem with those applications is they currently require users to have an Internet connection.

Firefox's current strategy is reminiscent of a failed strategy by Netscape Communications, more than 10 years ago, to make the operating system irrelevant by building an OS within the browser. But it's different this time around, in that Mozilla isn't seeking to make an entire operating system within the browser, just enough to run Web apps. And users are now seeking technology that will allow them to run applications on their own data without being tied to a single computer, Eich said.

Firefox is based on open source Netscape code.

Places is a revision to bookmarks and history functionality. Rather than storing bookmarks and history in flat files, as Firefox does now, the data will be stored in a SQLite database. Places will automatically organize bookmarks, as an aid to users who find it difficult to organize and find their bookmarks on their own. For example, Firefox will automatically generate a folder containing all of a user's most-frequently-visited sites, Eich said.

The Mozilla Wiki describes other plans for Firefox 3, including automatic synching of browser bookmarks with bookmarking services such as and shadows, improved tabbed browsing and improved password manager.

Firefox has been downloaded more than 300 million times since its initial, Nov. 9 2004 release, but in January it lost market share for the first time since in more than a year.

Further out, Mozilla is looking to add support for more advanced 2-D Web applications that now require proprietary Flash, and, even further out, 3-D Web applications, for data visualization, games like World of Warcraft, and virtual worlds like Second Life.

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