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Mozilla has officially released Firefox 3.6, the latest incarnation of its open-source web browser.

After little more than a week of testing on a pair of release candidates, the browser's final version can now be downloaded here. It's available for Windows, Linux, and Mac.

Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's director of Firefox development, characterizes the new browser as a "different kind of release" for the open source outfit. "Firefox 3.6 is going back to that idea of trying to get a bunch of new web technology into the hands of users so that web developers can take advantage of it sooner," he says.

Such new technology includes several additions from the still-gestating HTML5 standard, such as the Drag and Drop API (for moving files from the OS into the browser proper), the File API (for manipulating files), and full-screen HTML5 video. Developers can also tap the Web Open Font Format (a faster means of using downloadable fonts), CSS gradients (for displaying smooth transitions between web-based colors), and data describing the physical orientation of a laptop.

But developers aren't the only beneficiaries. There's plenty for the users themselves. Beltzner claims a 20 per cent boost in JavaScript speed and several performance gains you can't measure with industry benchmarks, including improvements to start-up times, page rendering, and the "responsiveness" of the browser's UI. For example, the Firefox "Awesome Bar" - an enhanced address bar that takes you quickly to sites you've visited in the past - now includes a data cache, so it doesn't have to hit your hard drive each time you use it.

The new release also adds the cosmetic pleasures of "Personas," a way of customizing the look of your Firefox browser, and it automatically detects out-of-date plug-ins.

Firefox 3.6 is Mozilla's last major release prior to version 4.0, due late this year or early next. Previously, Mozilla had planned Firefox 3.7, but tools intended for this release will now be added to the browser via regular "feature updates" pushed out along with security patches. The first such update is codenamed "Lorentz," and it's slated to arrive in March. Among other things, it will separate the execution of certain plug-ins from the browser proper in an effort to reduce crashes.

That means you, Adobe Flash. ®

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