Firefox 4 beta 5 finally adds full GPU hardware rendering support for Windows users. Mac users and Windows users alike can also enjoy the new HTML5 audio implementation (pictured here).  (Source: Mozilla via YouTube)
Firefox is gearing up for a final release late this year

Firefox 4 is going to be a critical milestone for Mozilla.  Facing a surging Google Chrome browser and a reinvigorated Internet Explorer, it is critical that Mozilla release a heavy-hitting product, convincing customers that it's still the best solution for their individual browsing needs.

The new browser is now in the home stretch, with the fifth beta airing this week.  The new beta, which you can grab here, packs a number of new features and improvements.  Most significantly, for Windows users it finally delivers a solid, working version of the long-awaited GPU rendering.

Mozilla's new hardware rendering leverages Direct 2D libraries in the DirectX 10 Windows graphics platform to offload the computationally-intensive task of rendering increasingly complex web graphics to the GPU.  That leaves your CPU free to handle scripts or other intensive chores commonly found in your favorite web applications.

A demo can be found here.

Unfortunately for Mozilla, it's not the only browser maker with shiny hardware-rendering incoming.  Microsoft's upcoming Internet Explorer 9 will also feature the technology.  And, of course, Linux and Mac OS X users are left with pedestrian unaccelerated implementations.

The new build also implements the ability for sites to use HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS).  This protocol is an even stricter security protocol than HTTPS.  It forces users to only be able to connect to the site via SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), preventing so-called "man-in-the-middle" attacks.  For the layman, this boils down to that your information will be more secure on sites that utilize this new feature.

For developers, the latest build also packs a a new audio API which allows websites to read and write raw audio data within the browser.  The API works with HTML5's <audio> tags.  Currently, decoders for WebM and Ogg codecs are included.  Mozilla did not mention support for some other common formats like MP3, but its possible they have been included or will be.

Another demo can be found here.

The GPU rendering and audio may blend together beautiful for music visualization apps or online sound editing applications, which are computationally intensive for both the sound and the video.

Mozilla will have one more beta -- Firefox 4 Beta 6 -- before its November 2010 launch.  The final beta will likely land sometime next month.  Users who have installed previous Firefox 4 betas can just wait until their browser prompts them to install the latest version -- as Firefox periodically automatically checks for and suggest updates.

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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