Mozilla delays Firefox 3.1 again, slates another beta

Beta 4 adds six weeks to schedule, pushes delivery to Q2

Mozilla Wednesday announced it will add another beta to the Firefox 3.1 development schedule, a move that will push the browser's ship date to the second quarter or later.

"We're going to wrap up Beta 3 in the next week regardless of 'upvar' status," said Mike Shaver, Mozilla's vice president of engineering, referring to a particularly troublesome bug in Firefox 3.1's new JavaScript engine that has held up releasing that preview.

"A fourth beta will follow approximately six weeks after, as a vehicle for more testing of [the] TraceMonkey [JavaScript engine], video, Places and other eagerly-awaited improvements, as well as feedback from Beta 3," Shaver said in a message on a company forum .

The decision was not unexpected. Last weekend, Shaver said that bugs in TraceMonkey had slowed the development pace, which in turn had kicked the browser's release into next quarter. He also said that developers were considering a fourth beta.

Shaver's decision to push out Beta 3, come hell or high water, followed comments by a few Mozilla developers who wondered whether it's smart to hold up Firefox for TraceMonkey fixes. One company programmer speculated that minus the new JavaScript engine, Mozilla could have wrapped up Firefox 3.1 by this point. "Without TraceMonkey, we probably could have shipped 3.1 final by now, or, if not now, within the next month," said Firefox developer David Baron last week.

Another executive said that Mozilla might take advantage of the fourth beta to add some more features. "[But] we are going to be extremely conservative here," said Firefox director Mike Beltzner, who also spelled out the criteria that new features must meet in order to be accepted. Those ranged from the obvious -- they must be complete, for one -- to the subjective. "We need to understand the benefit of taking the change," Beltzner said, "and why it's needed for 3.1 instead of later."

Although Mozilla originally conceived Firefox 3.1 as a "fast-track" upgrade slated to launch in late 2008, the new browser's progress has been much slower than planned. In fact, Mozilla has reworked Firefox 3.1's schedule several times. Last November, for example, it slipped a third beta into the timetable, in part to fix more bugs, but also to give features such as TraceMonkey, additional testing time.

Mozilla has not published a revised release schedule for Firefox 3.1 -- Beltzner said he's working on one -- but the addition of Beta 4 will clearly push the release into next quarter. Until now, Mozilla had regularly cited the first quarter of 2009 as the delivery date.

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