Mozilla Foundation developers are preparing the first alpha release of Firefox 2, the software may even be released today.

Firefox 2 includes a new "Places" feature that aims to make it easier to find and return to recently visited Web pages.

The development team decided to freeze the code for what will become Firefox 2.0a1 as last Thursday, with a view to releasing the code this Friday, according to the minutes of a Firefox 2 status meeting held March 14 at the Foundation's headquarters. However, another notice posted to the Mozilla Developer Center advised that the Thursday code freeze could lead to a release as early as Tuesday.

Confusion, cafuffle as Firefox prepares to fly

The foundation's "tinderbox" server, which automatically recompiles and packages the latest Firefox code as it is updated, listed a package labelled firefox-2.0a1 as available for download last week, prompting some to claim it had already been released.

However, that file is for internal use, and Mozilla engineers in Mountain View, California, will officially release the software when they have finished testing it, according to Tristan Nitot, president of Mozilla Europe.

If testing goes well then the software will be released, but if it uncovers major problems, they will be fixed and the testing process will begin again, he said.

"You can never be sure of the release date. It might be tonight, it might be Friday," he said.

Missing features in first alpha

Unlike beta versions of software, which are usually feature-complete but may contain bugs, the first alpha release of Firefox 2 will lack many of the new features planned for the final version.

One of the hallmarks of Firefox is "tabbed browsing", allowing users to flip between views of different Web pages they have opened by clicking on "tabs" like those found in a card index. Firefox developers plan to add an "undo close tab" feature to help users return to a page for which they have accidentally closed the tab, but this feature has now been pushed back to the second alpha release, due next quarter, according to the minutes of the status meeting.

An on-the-fly spelling checker for text typed into Web forms was also pushed back to the alpha 2 release because of difficulties integrating the code into the foundation's email client, Thunderbird.

Features included in the alpha 1 release include the Places dialogue, which makes it easier to find and return to previously visited pages based on their content rather than their address, and a system for remotely disabling third-party extensions to the browser.

Firefox 2 will consult a list of extensions on a central server and refuse to load those that the Mozilla developers consider unsafe.