A recent blog post by Mozilla’s Director of Firefox, Mike Beltzner, offers up the first real glimpse at what the open source browser maker intends to accomplish with Firefox 4. And not too surprisingly, it looks like Mozilla is racing to catch up with young browser upstart Google Chrome. Firefox currently holds about 30 percent of worldwide browser market share, with about 365 million users, according to Mozilla.

Beltzner lists the main goals Mozilla wants to accomplish with Firefox 4: It wants to make the browser fast (Chrome’s biggest advantage), powerful (by supporting new web standards like HTML 5), and empowering (by putting users in full control over their browser and web experience). He offered up more details via a set of slides (see below), but was adamant that the plans are still early and may change before Firefox 4’s release.

The new browser’s user interface takes a few cues from Chrome — tabs are now above the location bar, for one — but it still looks overall like a Firefox browser.

Mozilla’s last major browser release was Firefox 3.6 at the end of January. It made the browser slightly faster and more stable, but it still couldn’t hold a candle to Chrome’s benefits: Incredibly fast web browsing, and the ability to run tabs and plugins in separate system processes. The latter feature allows Chrome to keep functioning even after flaky plugins like Adobe Flash crash, or if a user accesses a troublesome web page on one tab.

Mozilla initially planned to offer plugins in separate processes with Firefox 3.7, but Beltzner notes in his slides that the company has relabeled that update to Firefox 3.6.4. The latest version of Firefox currently available to users is 3.6.3. Full support for separate processes in Firefox tabs probably won’t appear until Firefox 4 hits.

The browser maker plans to release the first Firefox 4 beta version sometime in June or July (around the Mozilla 2010 Summit). If all goes according to schedule, Mozilla will offer a Release Candidate in October (basically a more stable test version), and will ship the final version of Firefox 4 in November. Mozilla made a big event of the Firefox 3 launch, and it ended up surpassing its goal of 5 million downloads. We can expect even more festivities for Firefox 4.

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