At the Mozilla “open house”, Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla Corporation vice president of engineering said that beta 5 of Firefox 3 will come out next week. It will be the last beta before release candidate 1, which is due for May; Firefox 3 should ship in June or before, if possible.

Schroepfer said, Microsoft’s stated support for open standards (like CSS 2.1) is “a huge win for the Web.” But “I wouldn’t call it ‘vigorously embrace,'”. Lots of old standards are still not used.

Firefox will support HTML 5, which has a spec for offline access. This will make Google Gears obsolete, he said.

Firefox 3 will have less of the “Firefox look” and appear like a native app on Windows, Mac and Linux. It will support skins so you can pick your favorite look. Nearly everything is in the same place, but the back button is about twice as big.

Below are some of the new features of Firefox 3:

|> Performance/memory improvements: It is much faster than Firefox 2, even on SSL sites, like banking sites. When tested on Gmail it was two to four times faster than Firefox 2.

The complaint regarding memory inefficiencies has been addressed. Firefox 3 uses less memory than other browsers, and more importantly, releases that memory when tabs close. Also, during an extended browser session test, Firefox 3 was much better behaved and didn’t chew up memory or slow down. According to Schroepfer, neither IE 8 or Safari 3.1 can pass the test they’ve written, as they both crash.

|> Safer and faster: Firefox 3 will scan for malware (Firefox 2 already checks for phishing). It will actively check sites and update internal pattern database every 30 minutes. In contrast, IE uploads site URLs to Microsoft for checking. Mozilla says its version offers more privacy, but at Mozilla’s expense to push the pattern database over the Net. In early beta, this technology found that the site supporting a popular extension (Firebug) had been compromised. Address bar also checks for phishing exploits and lets users pull information from certification authorities.

|> New history/bookmark technology: History and bookmarks are stored in a local relational database, making it more reliable and increasing performance. More browsing history will be stored by default (instead of just 14 days), and will be instantly accessible and searchable.

|> The “awesome bar:” This is what they call the new address entry field. It has very useful autofill and search, since “people are moving to search as a modality” of how they use the browser. It combines search with your history, and it’s adaptive, based on what you historically click on. It tries to divine what you want even if the search term is ambiguous.

|> New password manager: It doesn’t pop up and interrupt, but does give you the opportunity to save the password after you see if you’ve successfully logged in. It won’t sync passwords across systems yet, but a new Mozilla project, Weave, will make this possible in the future.

Question from my Twitter followers: What about Firefox on the iPhone?

Response: “Apple has not written a license that allows it to happen. We’ve got other places we’re paying attention to, but that’s not one of them.” We note that Schroepfer, as well as Mozilla CEO John Lilly, both have iPhones sitting on the table in front of them. Still, they say, both iPhone and Android are closed platforms. What they are interested in is a truly open platform, they maintain. “That’s coming,” they say. Look at the Nokia N810.

— Posted by Rafe Needleman