It seems like it has been a year since Mozilla first outlined plans for version 4 of its highly-acclaimed free and open source Firefox browser. Oh wait, it has been a year. After much anticipation, delays, and even a little mud-slinging with Microsoft, Mozilla will finally release Firefox 4 on March 22.

Mozilla takes development very seriously and expects stable releases to actually be stable. It is, therefore, not surprising that it took four extra months and 13 beta versions to finally iron out the majority of bugs. But the bug fixing is not the big story with Firefox 4. It is the new features, such as much improved speed, better tab support, hardware acceleration for HTML 5 video and much faster page rendering, and better integration with the many operating systems Firefox supports.

Google Chrome 10 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 both beat Mozilla to the door, but few can deny that this new release will have a significant impact. Mozilla recently criticized Microsoft for not supporting Windows XP with IE9, leaving XP users with the choice to either upgrade, keep an outdated version of IE, or look for alternatives, such as Firefox.
Firefox’s new rendering engine, Gecko 2.0, is faster, has a new Javascript rendering engine (JagerMonkey), better support for HTML5, CSS3, WebGL, and WebM video playback. Additionally, the interface has undergone a complete makeover with snazzy new features like tab grouping, Firefox Sync support, and support for multitouch displays.

Firefox ships globally tomorrow and will be freely available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and a host of other operating systems. The original release for Firefox 4 was scheduled for November 2010. For loyal Firefox users, it will still have been worth the wait.

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