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Firefox 4 'feature complete' beta debuts after Jager shot

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Mozilla has released a seventh Firefox 4 beta, flipping the switch on the new JaegerMonkey Javascript engine extension, folding in additional hardware acceleration, and allowing developers to build plug-in-free 3D graphics via WebGL.

"This means pages load faster, interactions with websites are snappier and the Web is just a lot more fun," the open sourcers said in a blog post. "For developers, this means you can build richer high-performance Web applications and explore the world of 3D graphics, inherent to the Web.

Mozilla also says that the Firefox 4 add-ons API is now stable, urging developers to update their add-on for its latest browser.

Firefox 4 beta 7 is the "feature complete" beta. It was originally scheduled for release on September 17, and as it was pushed back, Mozilla also delayed the release of the stable browser. It's now due in "early 2011."

"Based on the delays in completing the 'feature complete' Beta 7 milestone against which our Add-on developers and third-party software developers can develop, as well as considering the amount of work remaining to prepare Firefox 4 for final release, we have revised our beta and release candidate schedule," Firefox development head Mike Belzner said last month on the mozilla development mailing list.

"Please note that, as always, this schedule is subject to change based on feedback from users and community members."

JaegerMonkey is an extension of Mozilla's existing SpiderMonkey JavaScript engine. It operates alongside the TraceMonkey extension, which debuted with Firefox 3.5 in June 2009. TraceMonkey speeds Javascript performance by detecting code loops and converting them to assembly language. But there are cases where "tracing" doesn't work. With Firefox 4 beta 7, TraceMonkey still looks to convert loops, but when it can't, JaegerMonkey converts entire methods into assembly. This new method JIT (just in time) compiler uses the Nitro assembler from Apple’s open source WebKit project, the same assembler used by Google Chrome and Apple Safari.

With the new compiler, Firefox 4 is significantly faster than existing Firefox versions, according to Mozilla tests, and it's neck-and-neck with competing browsers.

Beta 7 also enables hardware acceleration for the final rendering of a website – aka "compositing," and it adds hardware acceleration on Windows XP and Mac OS. On Windows XP and other versions of Windows, hardware acceleration handled through DirectX. On Mac OS X, it uses OpenGL. Naturally, you need the appropriate graphics hardware and drivers to benefit from Mozilla's hardware acceleration hooks – and the same goes for the WebGL support. WebGL requires an OpenGL graphics card on Windows or Mac OS X. Additional support will arrive in future releases of the browser.

You can download the new beta here. ®

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