Mozilla reveals plans to revitalize Firefox

Firefox's tentative plans for the future include ditching its legacy XUL technology, long regarded as a hindrance to the browser's evolution

Mozilla reveals plans to revitalize Firefox

Mozilla's next big move may not be adding features to Firefox, but rather removing them.

In a post on Mozilla's firefox-dev mailing list, Director of Engineering for Firefox Dave Camp outlined the bare bones of a plan to move Firefox off its legacy XML User Interface Language (XUL) architecture and onto a newer stack that more directly complements the modern Web.

"There's a huge body of shared wisdom about how to build applications on the Web," wrote Camp. "It's time to go back and examine how we can bring that wisdom back into Firefox."

Camp pointed out how XUL and its associated technologies don't receive the kind of platform attention as HTML itself, creating issues of performance and unneeded complexity. "It's harder for even experienced Web developers to get up to speed. It's further from the Web, and that doesn't help anybody."

Right now, there's no clear successor for XUL, either in terms of replacing it with or in carrying it out. However, there's the sense that a replacement is needed and a conversation needs to take place. One technology likely to be involved, Mozilla's Rust language (now in its 1.1 incarnation), has not yet been explicitly tapped to build the next generation of Firefox, but the Servo layout engine being built with Rust has long been rumored to be a candidate technology.

A post to the official Mozilla blog dated July 2 hints at more changes for Firefox, but it focuses on end-user, nontechnical details. The discussion revolved around functionality like support for HTML5 video, the WebRTC-powered Firefox Hello app, and the emphasis the company has placed on privacy.

Mozilla has experimented in the past with new ways to assemble and present Firefox, but most of them have not resulted in actual products. The Prism Firefox Labs experiment, unveiled in 2010, was an attempt to create an HTML5 app wrapper akin to the node-webkit project, although Mozilla's work never enjoyed uptake. Likewise, the Chromeless project experimented with "removing the current browser user interface and replacing it with a flexible platform which allows for the creation of new browser UI using standard Web technologies, such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript."