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Firefox Friday: can Firefox hold off Internet Explorer 9 and Chrome?

Happy Firefox Friday, friends! In the lead up to an exciting winter, things have been heating up at Mozilla.

There's strong competition from all sides. The IE9 beta launches next week and we'll soon see whether Microsoft can transform its excellent developer previews into something which can make the end-user salivate. Chrome's hardware acceleration currently leads the pack, and will presumably find its way to the beta build very soon. Does Firefox 4 have what it takes to hold onto its wavering market share?

This war, kicked off by Google's intent to push Chrome from nerdy obscurity into the mainstream, has forced Mozilla to roll with the blows. After almost completely avoiding innovation with Firefox 3.6 -- yay, Personas! -- we're now seeing a delicious glut of additions rolling out with each and every beta build of Firefox 4.

These past two weeks have been the busiest I've ever seen Mozilla, in terms of bug fixes, new features, and new out-reach and research projects. Let's tuck in!

Firefox debuts new JagerMonkey JavaScript engine, now on the tail of Chrome and IE9

JavaScript has long been a weakness of Firefox -- or rather, it became a sore point after the initial release of Chrome showed the world just how fast JavaScript can be. With JagerMonkey, Firefox 4's JS performance will be very close to the competition.

From conversations with developers at Mozilla, I also get the feeling that raw JavaScript performance isn't their prime concern. Benchmarks are notoriously bad at depicting real-world applications -- and JavaScript can still only perform as fast as the layout engine lets it.

It's safe to say that FF4 will run your JavaScript-intensive games and Web apps just fine.

The outlook of in-the-browser 2D and 3D games is sunny

JavaScript performance certainly isn't the only measure of what a browser can do, but it is very important when it comes to browser games and calculation-intensive Web apps. Which brings me neatly on to this week's release of Mozilla Labs Gaming. Mozilla usually manages to drum up a lot of interest with its competitions and design challenges, but usually these take the form of concept brainstorms, or mock-ups for new browser features. I'm not sure whether the slower-moving and slightly-less-hip-than-it-used-to-be Mozilla can pull off a gaming competition -- but I hope I'm wrong.

Mozilla certainly has plenty of academic ties, and what with it being the start of a new school year, perhaps Open Web Gaming will be on the curriculum? In fact, looking at the sheer number and variety of today's 'open' technologies, you could create an entirely open-source curriculum! Are you listening, universities? Open video, audio, WebGL, JavaScript, SVG, geolocation.

Gamers and developers, you should take a look at Rocket Engine

I intend to do a full write-up of Rocket Engine, but in the meantime here are my initial thoughts: OMG. The website is intentionally vague, but it looks like it's a pure JavaScript games engine with an in-the-browser SDK and editor. Watch the video and have your mind blown.

It should be immediately apparent how potentially awesome a JavaScript games engine is. Rocket Pack (the developer) pulls no punches by showing the same game running on a PC, netbook and iPad -- apparently you can even design games on an iPad.

But that's not the best bit: Rocket Engine can be used to build MMOs like FarmVille. I've seen a few HTML5 and JavaScript game engines, but this is certainly the first to offer such a wide range of features. Just scroll down and have a look at what's on offer -- crazy.

Which reminds me... what's happening to that Mozilla Web App Store?

What can developers do with their games after they write them? Self-publish? Publish their game on Steam?

Everyone and their mother is working on an app store at the moment -- but not Mozilla. All of this talk of building upon Open Web technologies and shunning proprietary platforms like Native Client, yet the only outlet Firefox developers have is AMO! And that's for add-ons!

I'm certain Chrome's Web Store will open first -- not to mention the tie-in it will have with Google TV and Chrome OS installations! -- and Microsoft has spent the last few months pushing developers to write apps for IE9... but Mozilla is still only testing the waters.

If Mozilla built it, game developers would come.

This week's Firefox release round-up

To finish, here are the latest Mozilla releases, along any significant changes:
  • Firefox 3.6.9 -- the stable build of Firefox received a ton of bug fixes (67!) and patched no less than 14 security vulnerabilities
  • Firefox 3.5.12 -- yup, tons of people are still running Firefox 3.5. Some security and stability issues were fixed
  • Firefox 4.0 beta 5 -- and finally, FF4 beta 5 was released this week, with hardware acceleration turned on by default and the inclusion of the new Audio Data API. The hardware acceleration -- if it can be called that -- actually doesn't seem to work right now. I've asked Mozilla about it, but I haven't had a response yet
  • Thunderbird 3.1.3 -- yes, Thunderbird is still going! This is just a standard point release that fixes some bugs and stability issues

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