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I heard a few questions yesterday about the future of Firefox and its product goals, differentiating factors, and its positioning against Microsoft and its Internet Explorer browser. I’ve been following the Firefox process intermittently so I’ll outline some of what I know in an attempt to spark community involvement and feedback on behalf of Mozilla and the Firefox team.

The Firefox planners is divided into a few different functions such as planning, development, user interface, test, internationalization, and quality assurance, just to name a few. The product planners are currently engaging the community to determine what should be the differentiating factors of Firefox over the long-term (version 4, 5, 6, etc.). What is Firefox’s role as a browser? What is its role as an application enabler, powering application features through HTML rendering, XUL, or a general handler of all things HTTP. You can follow that thread on the mailing list if you’re interested.

Firefox 3 roadmap

Current plans for the Firefox browser include a v2 release by the end of September and a v3 release by March of next year. The next version of Firefox, 2.0 aka “Bon Echo” includes features such as OpenSearch support, better feed handling including a browser-friendly render of a feed and better pass-through to other applications, and UI improvements on Windows Vista, OS X, and Gnome. You can read about some of the new features on the Firefox 2 requirements page and you should be able to download the first beta version next Tuesday.

Firefox 3 is focused on improved memory handling, performance, and stability, improved XUL, and new core components such as application data stored in SQLite. Firefox 3 could break a few existing extensions and applications built on top of Firefox, and it will definitely include new optimizations if you like to build on the popular browser. Firefox 3 should have additional JavaScript and SVG features if you’re into that sort of thing.

Mozilla has also realized it has a sizable chunk of revenue from search engine deals and is starting to look at new ways to spend that money. It could mean more books and documentation, user/developer conferences, or more tutorials and other efforts to build the platform.

That’s my mini-summary of what’s going on at Firefox, from an outsider’s point of view.