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The first release candidate of Mozilla’s Firefox 3 web browser has been out for almost a month but the company had been quiet about when the final version would be released. Instead, all we got was that it would ship “when it’s ready.” Well now we know: it’ll be ready next week.

The final version of Firefox 3 will ship on June 17. This represents 34 months of active development on the follow-up to its hugely successful Firefox 2.

While Microsoft still controls the web browsing market with its Internet Explorer product, Firefox has been making steady inroads. The browser is on track to surpass a 20 percent worldwide market share in July — something that could be achieved even earlier with this new version 3 release. This is pretty incredible when you consider that as recently as 2003, Internet Explorer had over a 94 percent market share.

The next version of Internet Explorer, version 8, is currently beta testing. A second beta version is not expected until August, meaning the final version is unlikely to ship until the end of 2008 or possibly 2009.

As a Mac user, I found myself no longer using Firefox with the release of Firefox 2. It was simply too slow on my machine. Instead I opted for the Mozilla browser specifically built for the Mac, Camino, and Apple’s own Safari web browser. However, in beta testing Firefox 3 for the Mac, it appears the Mozilla team has significantly improved the speed of the browser. Quite frankly, when compared with Firefox 2, version 3 flies.

Mozilla is attempting to set a Guinness World Record by making Firefox 3 the most downloaded software in a 24-hour period. I have a feeling they’ll make it. More info on how to participate here.

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