Firefox is about to enter its third phase, with the launch of Beta 1.

The release is already late and it's now highly unlikely that the new browser will surface before the end of the year - though we'll probably see a second beta by then. The first beta was originally supposed to debut at the end of July.

What's new in v3.0?

The new browser will seek to improve on Mozilla's position in the browser market. Stats from the W3 organisation suggest Firefox now has as much as a 27 per cent share.

"With Firefox 3 Beta 1 just around the corner (release candidates coming soon), it's time to start focusing on what it will take to ship a final product that we're all excited about," wrote Mike Beltzner on his blog.

Beltzner is Mozilla's user interface designer. Version 3 of the web browser includes an improved layout engine (Gecko 1.9) and will apparently have different themes for Windows and Mac users. There is also a redesigned downloads manager.

Volunteers have already been sought to do first testing on Beta 1. According to reports of meetings within Mozilla, only one bug remained in the new browser release as of yesterday. That was within Places, a new element that brings together browsing and bookmarks rather like IE7's Favourites Center.

The browser was originally codenamed Gran Paradiso.