Firefox 1.0 to Gain More Mac OS X Features

By Daniel Drew Turner  |  Posted 2004-11-10

Firefox 1.0 to Gain More Mac OS X Features

For a product that can count a double-digit market share only through the generous rounding of numbers, the release of Version 1.0 of the Mozilla Foundations Firefox Web browser was met with great enthusiasm and interest among users of Apple Computer Inc.s Macintosh computers.

But such a response for an arguably niche product is nothing new to this audience, which applauded a rare simultaneous, multiplatform release of software. spoke with Ben Goodger, the lead engineer for the Mozilla Foundation, about developing for multiple platforms and what lies ahead for the Mac version of Firefox.

Read more here about the release of Firefox Version 1.0.

Though Mozilla does not break out numbers by platform, the company said a preview release of Firefox was downloaded more than 8 million times. In addition, a statistic from Web metrics company WebSideStory claimed that in June alone, the alternative browsers share rose from 3.5 percent to 6 percent, even as usage of Microsofts Internet Explorer browser shrank from 95.5 percent to 92.9 percent.

However, as pointed out by Web sites such as Chuck Upsdells Browser News and Kerry Watsons Browser Statistics Page, these data are difficult to confirm. Browsers often spoof their identity, sending to servers messages that they are, in fact, Internet Explorer.

This is in the hope of not being locked out of sites designed only for Microsofts browser. In addition, these pages note that statistics vary widely, depending on the measurement criteria, with Internet Explorer 6 showing up with a usage share as low as 51 percent in some cases, and browsers based on Mozilla code, as Firefox is, with a correspondingly higher share.

Goodger, who has been with Mozilla since 1999 and has worked on the Firefox project since its inception in 2003, said development for multiple platforms, including Windows, Mac OS and Linux, was a goal from the beginning.

Next Page: Programming in XUL to build extensions.

Programming in XUL

Firefox was built using the Mozilla Foundations cross-platform XML Users Interface Language toolkit, which is abbreviated to XUL "because that sounded cooler," Goodger said. Programming in XUL is similar to using XML tags, he said, adding that this enables the same code to run in Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. "You write the code once, it works on all platforms," Goodger said.

As an example, he pointed to Firefoxs extension system, which allows third parties to add capabilities to the browser. Extensions can block banner ads, help users share files and more.

"On a lower level, there is native code for rendering and things like that," Goodger added, though he said this was a small part of the overall Firefox code base.

On the Mac side of things, Goodger said Firefox 1.0 uses Apples QuickDraw technology to draw to the screen, while the Windows version uses GDI. However, he said the next big move for the Mac version of Firefox would be away from QuickDraw.

QuickDraw, which Apple created in 1984, was the basis for 2D screen presentation in the Mac OS. With the advent of Mac OS X, Apple moved away from QuickDraw to its PDF-based Quartz rendering system, which is now incorporated in the Core Graphics architecture of Mac OS X.

"We were most focused on the feature set and user interface," Goodger said. "Maybe not for the next couple of months, but we plan to move Firefox" to the more modern rendering system. Firefoxs reliance on QuickDraw, he said, is due to the fact that the low-level code of Firefox comes from Mozillas Netscape 6 and 7 projects, which was largely coded in the years 1999 to 2001 for the Mac OS 9 operating system.

Microsoft may use the same Internet Explorer add-on mechanism that third-party developers are deploying, so it can issue out-of-band browser updates. Click here to read more.

Before Apple moved to Mac OS X, Mac users relied on Netscape 4.x and a version of Internet Explorer, but other browser choices proliferated. Opera, iCab, OmniWeb and other Mozilla offshoots appeared at various rates of growth, and versions are still in development for Mac OS X.

"The alternative browser market seems more viable, more vibrant, on the Mac than on Windows," Goodger said, who stressed that he is not a Mac fanatic. "People seem to be jumping on Apples platform and creating new and exciting—and usable—software."

"I say this as a developer," he added. "I have a dual-G5 Power Mac at home, but I dont get a chance to use it" because of the workload Firefox has been. "Im looking forward to working on it, now that Firefoxs feature set is complete."

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