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By GCN Staff

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Firefox gets the picture

In this week's cover story, Government Computer News takes a look at how Google geared up its new Chrome browser to run more robust Web applications. For the story, we had hoped to catch up with the Mozilla Foundation to find out what work it was doing on its Firefox browser in that regard.

Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's director of Firefox, was on the road when we sent our inquiry, so he didn't get back to us until after our deadline. He sent an e-mail message explaining the work that the Firefox team is doing with regard to Web applications. Like Google, Mozilla hopes to engender more Web applications, including those that run within browsers and those that use open standards.

Beltzner said the Firefox team is working on ways to increase the flexibility of Firefox to support developers that don't rely on a vendor-specific plug-in ' such as Google Gears or Adobe Flash, for example.

Indeed, Firefox 3.0 uses quite a bit of Version 5 of HTML, which the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is advancing to address the growing gap between standards and proprietary Web technologies.

Perhaps most notably, the Firefox team has beefed up the image-rendering capabilities of Firefox. Beltzner said Version 3.0 of the browser supports emerging graphics standards, such as Animated Portable Network Graphics , Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and HTML 5'sCanvas tag.

Version 3.1 of Firefox will come with even more multimedia muscle, Beltzner said. Most notably, it will support HTML's Video tag and the open-source Ogg Vorbis sound-encoding technology. Those features will allow "people to embed video on their page without requiring that a user have a plug-in to play it back," he said.

And although Chrome caught the headlines for its improved JavaScript engine, the Firefox team is also working on improvements to its engine, Beltzner said. Specifically, TraceMonkey, a technique for compiling computer-native code on the fly, "will drastically increase the speed of JavaScript, allowing application developers to perform more complicated operations and build richer applications," he added.

Firefox's new multimedia features are particularly promising because W3C has thus far been slow to address adding sound and video to Web pages using only the organization's standards. But SVG has a tiny fraction of the users that Adobe Flash does, so, like Google, Mozilla has an uphill battle.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Sep 15, 2008 at 9:39 AM


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