Mozilla officially released Firefox 29 today, providing users with the first major overhaul of the open-source browser’s user interface since Firefox 4 was released in March 2011.
The interface overhaul has been developed under the code name “Australis” and has been available in testing branches of Firefox since August of 2013. Firefox 29 with the Australis interface has been in beta development since March 20. The new user interface provides new customization options that enable users to more easily modify Firefox for their own needs (be sure to check out eWEEK’s slide show on the Australis Interface).
Jonathan Nightingale, vice president of Firefox at Mozilla, told eWEEK that during the beta development period his organization received a lot of feedback on Australis. That feedback was generally about requests for refinements to the interface.
“We adjusted things like the tab width because people wanted more text on the tab when they have a small number of open tabs,” Nightingale said.
Overall, Nightingale said that during the beta development process there were a lot of small refinements and bug fixes. In total, the Australis update involves 1,376 bugs that were tracked in the Mozilla Bugzilla tracking system.
In addition to the user interface improvements in Firefox 29, the new browser also includes the Firefox Accounts system. The idea behind Firefox Accounts is to give users an easier way to use the Firefox Sync browser synchronization feature in Firefox 29. With Firefox Accounts, users simply set up a user account with Mozilla, which then enables all of a user’s connected Firefox desktop and mobile browsers to be synchronized. Prior to Firefox Accounts, Firefox Sync setup involved a more complicated process to connect user devices.
“People had found Firefox Sync too hard to set up, and that was a real challenge,” Nightingale said.
Mark Mayo, vice president of Cloud Services at Mozilla, noted that during the beta period, “hundreds of thousands” of Firefox Accounts were created.
“We are confident in our ability to support large numbers of users signing up for Firefox Accounts,” Mayo said. “We’ve been in the business of providing infrastructure to hundreds of millions of Firefox users for many years, and consider the creation and operation of cloud services like Add-Ons, Marketplace and Sync a core competency at Mozilla.”
In the past, Mozilla has emphasized performance gains in each successive Firefox release, and the Firefox 29 update is no different.
“This will be the fastest version of Firefox we have ever had,” Nightingale said. “On the classic benchmarks like Sunspider, I boldly predict that we will be in the lead or too close for a human being to actually feel.”
Mozilla as an organization has gone through a tumultuous period of upheaval over the last few months during the Firefox 29 development process. Brendan Eich, one of the original founders of the Mozilla project itself, was named CEO of Mozilla on March 24 and then resigned on April 3 over backlash related to a 2008 contribution he made in support of a California proposition to ban same-sex marriages.
Nightingale admitted that the last month has been a hard one and that Eich is missed at Mozilla. That said, Nightingale said people at Mozilla are excited by the return of Chris Beard, who is now the new interim CEO. Beard had been the chief marketing officer at Mozilla from October of 2004 until June of 2013.
“My sense walking around the office is that people are excited about the new release of Firefox, and they are revved up about the mission of Mozilla,” Nightingale said. “That’s not because anyone has forgotten the emotions of the last month; it’s because they know why we’re here.
“We’re here to get important stuff done for the Web, and we’re doing that,” he added.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.