Mozilla plans to soon release the first beta of its much-delayed Firefox 3.0 browser, but a final version is not expected this year. Beta 1 is close at hand, according to Mozilla's website.

"With Firefox 3 Beta 1 just around the corner (release candidates coming soon), it's time to start focusing on what it will take to ship a final product that we're all excited about," said Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's user interface designer on his blog.

In another note, the browser's QA team called for volunteers to stress-test the Beta 1 release candidate this Friday, typically a sign that a roll-out is just days away.

As of Monday, only one bug remained in the Beta 1 code, a status meeting reported. That bug - an issue in Places, Firefox 3.0's new redesign of bookmarks and browsing history - was still listed as open in Bugzilla yesterday.

At one time, Mozilla planned Beta 1 for 31 July this year, with a second beta in September and the final before the end of the year. That, however, was when it predicted only six alpha versions; so far, Firefox has run through eight.

A brief mention of post-Beta 1 plans was tucked into Monday's Firefox status meeting notes. "Looking at [Beta 2] before the holidays," it read.

On its current schedule, it's unlikely that Firefox 3.0 can make final release during 2007. Last year, for example, when Mozilla updated the browser to Version 2.0, the stretch between the release of its Beta 2 on 31 August and the launch of the final 25 October was just shy of two months.

Mozilla was not immediately available for comment.