A while back, Mozilla decided to move Firefox to a new rapid release processl, where new versions of Firefox would be released much faster than before, every six weeks. This is in part due to the success of Chrome using this model, but mostly since it is the best way to get the latest developments to users.
While we do call this version a minor update, it marks a significant step for Mozilla, being the first release under their new rapid release model. This model has required quite a few adjustments for Mozilla due to the repercussions into numerous other products. Thunderbird and SeaMonkey, both of which are based on the same code as Firefox, will need to adjust as well. Thunderbird has already moved to a rapid release model as well, with a beta of Thunderbird 5 released recently, and a beta version of Seamonkey 2.2 based on Gecko 5.0 coming soon.
Firefox Mobile will also follow Firefox’s release cycle, and today also marks the release of Firefox 5 for Mobile (Android).
Another huge adjustment was required for the add-on compatibility process. Already many old Firefox extensions take quite a while to be updated when a new version of Firefox is released, but with releases every 6 weeks, this would quickly become a nightmare. Thankfully, Mozilla has created a new process by which add-ons will be passed through a compatibility scanner, which will automatically detect if an add-on is compatible with the changes made in the latest Firefox version. If an add-on is indeed still compatible, then it’s compatibility will automatically be bumped making it instantly available to uses of the latest Firefox version. Non-compatible add-ons wont automatically be bumped, however the add-on authors will be informed so they can make the requisite changes. A manual validation process is also available for add-ons not hosted on Mozilla’s site.
Other than the release process, and the new changes to how Mozilla works with add-ons, Firefox 5 does bring a number of small new features, bug-fixes and improvements. One of the biggest new features is support for CSS3 Animations. CSS3 animations allow web developer to animate HTML elements, allowing for rich web animated web content based on open standards.There have been numerous other improvements to HTML5 support as well. A minor visual change is that the old Do-Not-Track header configuration option has now been moved to the Privacy section where it belongs and is more discoverable.
You can find out more about the new features in Firefox 5 here, or visit here to download the latest version. If you are already running Firefox 4.0.1, you will be able to automatically upgrade to Firefox 5 via your browsers update mechanism.
Firefox 6 and 7 are already in development, and will bring numerous new features, and the best thing is there isn’t long to wait. You can download a pre-release build of Firefox 6 already on the Aurora channel.