Mozilla has produced its first alpha release of Firefox 3.0, ahead of schedule.

The finished product is still a year away, but the alpha release will give developers an early look at the next-generation browser. The software, codenamed Gran Paradiso, comes just six weeks after Mozilla shipped version 2.0 of the open-source browser, but has already been more than a year in development, according to Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla's vice president of engineering.

The final version of Firefox 3.0 is expected by the end of 2007. Developers hope that it will be a major step toward making Web applications indistinguishable from programs that are installed on the desktop, Schroepfer said.

Gran Paradiso features better support for a number of graphics standards, such as the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) language and the Canvas specification, Schroepfer said. "These are fairly major architectural changes to enable us to improve performance."

Firefox 3.0 also supports the Cairo graphics library, which aims to make Web pages look the same whether they are being printed or viewed on a Windows PC, a Macintosh or small-screen device.

The Firefox 3.0 plan calls for browsing, bookmarking and privacy enhancements to be built into the browser, but Schroepfer said there is still a lot of time to work out new features. "It's a bit early to be talking about the user-facing features," he said.