The timing of the release couldn't be much better: Firefox 3.6 arrives following recent recommendations by French, German and Australian IT security organizations that computer users stop using Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 due to a critical browser vulnerability.
That's the sort of good news Mozilla needs with Google's Chrome browser now competing for the hearts and minds of Internet users.
In a recent phone interview, Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's director of Firefox, described the virtues of Firefox in terms very similar to those Google uses when promoting Chrome: speed, stability, and security.
"One of the things we wanted to do with this is develop a smaller and faster release," he said.
Firefox 3.6, Beltzner said, strives to reflect Mozilla's belief that users should have full control over their browser. It should also be secure and fast, he said.
Toward that end, Firefox 3.6 is more than 20% faster than Firefox 3.5. It's more stable and secure, thanks to changes in the way third party plug-ins work and get updated. And it's more customizable, the result of new user-selectable themes called Personas.
The upgraded browser also features support for new Web technologies, including many HTML5 elements like the video tag, the File API for local file storage, and CSS gradients. It now supports location-aware browsing on some laptops and mobile devices, and its supports the Web Open Font Format, known as WOFF.
In theory, the video tag allows HTML5 compliant Web browsers to play online videos without using a proprietary video technology like Flash.
Unfortunately, unlike Chrome, Safari, or Internet Explorer (with Google Frame), Firefox 3.6 doesn't currently work with the experimental HTML5 video player that YouTube introduced on Wednesday. A Mozilla spokesperson said the license for H.264 video -- used on YouTube -- is incompatible with license requirements for Web standards.
In a sign that Mozilla is looking to the health of its developer community, as Apple, Google, and Microsoft do, Beltzner said that Mozilla is considering different models to help add-on developers monetize their code. Mozilla's add-ons site already presents those who download add-ons with a suggested contribution amount, but a more formalized e-commerce operation could emerge.
"We don't want to create and app store which is restrictive or mediated," he said.