Two more betas are planned in the first quarter of 2011, meaning we can probably expect the final Firefox 4 browser to arrive by the summer.
The beta is however close to the final product and quite stable for everyday use on home systems, with the notable exception that many plugins used in the corporate setting do not yet work with beta 8, such as one-click-edit plugins for content management systems like Imperia.
Beta 8 provides a cleaner interface (hiding the status bar by default) in addition to improved functionality under-the-hood especially regarding add-ons and multimedia.
Why the delay?
Mozilla has been experiencing delays in the development cycle of Firefox because of the questionable management decision to link the release-time of Firefox 4 to Firefox Mobile (Fennec).
While the projects do share a certain code base and Fennec is useful for users of Android phones, Firefox is still a higher priority for most on the web and shifting the development focus to the mobile version of the browser could let Google gain ground with Chrome 9 and Microsoft get back in the game with IE9.
Why Chrome is so dangerous
As with Google Search and Gmail, Chrome is really fast and comfortable; the inclination to try and then adopt it for daily use is high. The problem with more and more people jumping on the Chrome bandwagon is that Google knows everything about what we buy, what we are searching for and what we communicate about by Gmail.
It likes to grant access to this data to advertisers and authorities; the parallel to the Assange trial is striking. Our freedom of speech is at risk while our privacy is being invaded. While there are ways to protect your privacy to some degree while using Google products, the downside risk for most people that do not have this specialised knowledge is increasing rapidly.
Time to shape up
Mozilla, a symbol for the success of the open source development model, should get its act together and re-prioritise finishing Firefox 4 as soon as possible to sustain its browser market share and head off privacy-killing and closed-source alternatives.