TechRadar recently caught up with Tristan Nitot, president of Mozilla Europe to discuss the forthcoming release of the much-heralded faster and more secure Firefox 3 browser – due for release on Tuesday 17th June.
TR: Apple isn't yet a serious competitor in the browser stakes. Could it be?
Tristan Nitot: Safari is a good browser compared to Internet Explorer, and they have the advantage of distribution on the Mac, as the Apple machines are shipping with Safari installed by default. But on Windows, which is the leading platform, they don't have this distribution advantage, and I am not sure that Safari's look is well integrated on Windows, as it really looks like a Mac application. This may be something that will slow down.
Safari adoption on Windows. We'll see!
TR: How can browsers develop to help us better browse the web? Does it require a fundamental rethink of interface design?
Tristan Nitot: On the desktop, the challenge is to bring new functionality without demanding the user to learn again how to use a browser. This is something that we are working on, and Firefox 3 demonstrates this. Our "Awesome Bar" is a great example, where Firefox 3 suggests Web pages as the user types in the location bar. It's the same with the bookmark feature and our Password manager
On mobiles, things are really different. The lack of mouse, big screen, tabs, mouse and keyboard means that we need to reinvent the user interface. I'm not sure that anyone has found the right thing for Mobile, and we're working on it. My colleague Aza Raskin has just posted a video about this It's just a concept, but it does show the issues that browsers on mobile are facing.
TR: What developments does Mozilla have planned in the mobile space?
Tristan Nitot: We currently have a project, code-named Fennec. It's basically the engine powering Firefox 3 (called Gecko 1.9), ported to mobile devices. We hope to have an Alpha version by the end of Summer 08. Then we will be more able to talk about it at length.
TR: How does Mozilla push out new browsers to users that may be using really old versions?
Tristan Nitot: The general rule at Mozilla is that we maintain a version of the browser for six months after the release of the next major version. In this case, Firefox 3 being released mi-June, we will release maintenance versions of Firefox 2 (22.214.171.124 etc.) until next December. Some time before this deadline, we will encourage our users to upgrade to Firefox 3.
On top of this, we encourage people to install Firefox 3 as soon as it is released, on June 18th (the official date is the 17th, but it's on California time, which means the 18th for us Europeans). For this, we aim at setting a new record of the most downloaded piece of software in 24 hours. We're doing this with the Guinness book of records. You can pledge right now on spreadfirefox.com. AS I write this, UK is ranking #7 behind Poland, Brazil, Italy and France. I am sure you can do better than this!
TR: What does Firefox 3 offer in terms of improved security?
Tristan Nitot: With Firefox 2, we introduced the Anti-Phishing system, now improved in version 3. There is now a new Anti-Malware system that prevent people from visiting Websites that are known to be security threats to users, thanks to viruses, trojan horses, etc.
We also have added some functionality in the user interface so that users have better information on the site they are visiting. It's the "site identification button".
TR: What's the key enhancement(s) in Firefox 3 over version 2?
Tristan Nitot: More than 15,000 changes have taken place between Firefox 2 and Firefox 3, so it's really a lot. We have made a lot of improvements. Under the hood, Firefox 3 is much faster that Firefox 2 and uses significantly less memory I love this because older computers are comfortable again for browsing if you run Firefox 3, and complex Ajax applications such as Webmails (GMail, Y!Mail) are also more pleasant to use on Firefox 3, because they are significantly more responsive.
When it comes to user experience, tons of things have changed, on top of the Awesome Bar, the new bookmarking system and the password manager that I mentioned earlier. Some of the nice improvements include a new Download Manager, Full page zoom , the new Add-ons manager. There are so many of these improvements, it's hard to list them all. There is a short list, available, though.
TR: By providing the platform for AdBlock, are you killing of the web's main source of funding?
Tristan Nitot: Mozilla is a kind of a market place where contributors can develop and offer extensions that they want to have in their own browser. We believe every user has the right to decide how they want to experience the Net which is why we enable people to add and use extensions to improve and personalise their browser of choice.