Mozilla recently transitioned to shorter development cycles for Firefox, with the aim of issuing a new release every six weeks. Firefox 5 arrived last month with a number of minor user-facing changes. The next update, version 6, reached beta status last week and is expected to launch on August 16.
Still, the development effort on Firefox 7 is already underway and Mozilla has started rolling out builds for testing in the Aurora channel. Due to the new faster-paced release management strategy, Mozilla is doing aggressive pre-release testing of multiple versions in parallel. We took a quick hands-on look at the new builds to see the new functionality in action.
Firefox 6 offers some noteworthy new features for Web developers, including improvements to the built-in development tools and support for a number of significant emerging Web standards.
The beta includes support for WebSockets and server-sent events. WebSockets was originally supposed to land in Firefox 4, but was pulled prior to release due to some technical concerns about the protocol. An updated WebSockets implementation based on the latest draft version of the specification is available in Firefox 6 with a vendor-specific prefix.
Firefox 7 is still at a relatively early stage of development, but there are already some very significant improvements. Reducing the browser's memory footprint is a big focus for version 7. The developers say that users can expect to see memory usage decrease by 30 percent in the latest Aurora builds. These improvements reflect the success of Mozilla's MemShrink project, which is tackling the issue from all sides. Cracking down on leaks and improving garbage collection have already produced excellent results.
During our day of hands-on testing with the Firefox 7 pre-release build in the Aurora channel, we definitely saw improved memory consumption behavior under real-world usage conditions. More significantly, the whole browser felt a bit snappier than previous versions after hours of use. We intend take a closer look at the memory improvements later in the cycle.
The Aurora and Beta versions are available for download from Mozilla's website. For more details, you can refer to the official release announcements.