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Mozilla has further delayed the release date for the next version of its Firefox web browser.

The next version of the open source browser was initially due in early 2009, but the addition of extra fixtures and additional testing rounds means that the middle of the year has become a more realistic target date.

Firefox 3.1 beta 3 was released last week, alongside the news that a fourth beta is planned - a development that will see the browser re-christened as Firefox 3.5. "The decision to rename Firefox 3.1 to Firefox 3.5 reflects the sheer volume of work that makes it feel more than a small update to Firefox 3.0," Mozilla said.

Firefox director Mike Beltzner explained in a blog posting: "The increase in version number is proposed due to the sheer volume of work which makes Shiretoko feel like much more than a small, incremental improvement over Firefox 3: TraceMonkey, <video> tag and player support, improvements to user controls over data privacy, significant improvements in the web layout and rendering platform, and much more."

A limited number of release candidates for Firefox 3.5 will be released before the final version of the software comes out, probably in around "two to three" months, Mozilla evangelist Chris Blizzard posted last Friday.

Firefox 3.5 is due to turbo-charge the performance of web-based JavaScript programs and is due to feature built-in audio and video rendering capabilities, bypassing the need to install plug-ins from the likes of Adobe and Macromedia. The browser is also due to feature a private surfer (aka porn browsing) mode.

Mozilla has decided to run with additional features in extending the development cycle for the next version of the browser, in the face of stronger competition. Arch-rival Microsoft is putting the finishing touches to Internet Explorer 8, while Apple has released a beta of Safari 4. Opera too is tinkering under the bonnet of its browser, in an attempt to boost JavaScript-handling speeds. JavaScript handling has become a key battleground in browser development since the release of Google Chrome. ®

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