While Mozilla chose to remain silent about the Firefox 4 alpha that popped up last week, it has now broken out the champagne as the first beta has been made officially available for download.
Accompanied with the tagline "It all begins here" Firefox 4 Beta 1 is the most radical revamp of the browser since it launched. A complete rewrite of its architecture has greatly boosted performance, there's 64bit support, repositioned tabs, 3.6.4's tab sandboxing to reduce crashes, enhanced HTML5 support, better Aero Peak integration for Windows 7 users an improved bookmarks manager and many, many other elements we've already been over a dozen times.
Consequently perhaps the more interesting aspect to all this is why we have been over it a dozen times and why Mozilla has been keen to crowd source its ideas. The reason is this is by far the most crucial release in Mozilla's history. When Firefox first launched it was to capitalise on the sloth of Internet Explorer and lack of choice. Now we have a hyper competitive market with browser updates coming every few weeks, a speed race and ever more powerful companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple sharply focused on getting their offerings right.
Consequently, for the first time in a long time, Firefox market share has been stagnant, stalling around the 20 per cent mark. I'd suggest this is partially due to the reasons above and partially because Firefox has come to be seen as an increasingly bloated beast in this increasingly speed obsessed sector.
The hope is Firefox 4 can change this. It will be the core of Mozilla's efforts for the next 12 months and with Chrome having raced towards market share double figures in under two years (the majority of which has been in the last 10 months), Safari 5 having just arrived and Internet Explorer 9 due in early 2011 the battle is going to be more tense than ever before.
Under those terms Firefox 4 will have its work cut out – especially with far smaller resources than its nearest rivals and while I do like what I have seen so far, I must admit it wouldn't surprise me if Microsoft and Google's billions see them become the two dominate browser makers over the next few years.