Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Firefox Review 2017

Firefox is among the top three internet browsers when it comes to global browser usage (see chart below). At one point, it was at the top of the list, but Google Chrome has taken over since mid-2012 and has maintained that top spot ever since.

Mozilla updates Firefox approximately once every six weeks in the form of rapid releases. They have been making a lot of effort to keep the browser relevant by implementing performance boosting tweaks, enhanced security, new features and functionality, and continuous bug fixes as well as fixes to security vulnerabilities.

At the time of writing this Firefox Review, the latest rapid release version is Firefox 54 which was released June 13, 2017. And this is the fourth rapid release update in 2017.

In 2016, Mozilla focused a lot of their efforts on one of the biggest projects they have ever undertaken on browser overhauls. They dubbed it Project Electrolysis (or Project e10s) using multi-process architecture.

Essentially, it splits up the browser into multiple processes which is designed to improve responsiveness, stability as well as security of the browser. This is an on-going project and we can expect to see many positive changes in browser performance as this project evolves.

Mozilla has taken a phased approach to implementing multi-process architecture (e10s) as they roll out that changes to the Firefox user-base.

In phase one, Mozilla will split Firefox into UI process and content process. So when a resource-intensive webpage is loading, it won't lock up tabs, buttons, and menus (for example).

In phase two, Mozilla will be further splitting up content processes so that one resource-intensive webpage won't slow down another webpage while loading.

In phase three, the plan is to sandbox Firefox add-ons or extensions in order to ensure that problem add-ons don't slow down the browser or webpages when loading.

I've personally seen a significant difference in web browser performance when multi-process was enabled in my browser in Firefox 50. You can see the results of the Browsermark Benchmark Tests I ran, in the video above, comparing performance of Firefox 50 vs Firefox 51.

Project Electrolysis remains on-going, while Mozilla continues to work on other relevant projects to enhance the performance and security of Firefox. In that regard, Mozilla has undertaken another big project called Project Quantum.

It is Mozilla's ambitious plan to create a next-generation web engine that leverages from modern hardware. The first component of Project Quantum is Quantum Compositor. It made its way into the stable release in Firefox 53, though a small portion of the Firefox userbase will have it enabled on their browsers.

Quantum Compositor is designed to speed up Firefox as well as to prevent graphics crashes on Windows. Quantum Compositor will be enabled for about 70% of Firefox users. Those on Windows 7 SP1, and above; and on computers equipped with, Intel, Nvidia or AMD, graphics cards.

Based on initial tests conducted by Mozilla with Quantum Compositor enabled: 17% fewer driver related crashes; 22% fewer Direct3D related crashes; and 11% fewer Direct3D accelerated video crashes.

In Firefox 51, Mozilla added support for WebGL2. WebGL stands for Web Graphics Library. It is a JavaScript API, for rendering interactive 2D & 3D computer graphics without the need for plugins. WebGL2 comes with many new features, mostly focused towards increased performance & visual fidelity.

In Firefox 52, NPAPI support was removed, for Firefox plugins except for Adobe Flash. NPAPI or Netscape Plugins API is a plugins infrastructure, that was developed way back in 1995, for the Netscape browser, on which Mozilla built Firefox.

Due to the age of the API and security issues, as well as, the adoption of plugin-free web technologies such as HTML5 major web browser vendors, began to phase out NPAPI support, back in 2013. In September 2015, Google permanently dropped NPAPI support in Google Chrome 45.

Mozilla had announced that this change was coming via their blog in October 2015. If you still need to use NPAPI plugins, you can download the ESR (Extended Support Release) version of Firefox.

Some of the other enhancements that Mozilla introduced in 2017 include the following:

In terms of Security Enhancements, Mozilla introduced a new warning that is displayed when a login page does not have a secure connection. It will be in the form of a grey-lock icon, with a red strike-through on the address bar. And you can click on it, to get more information. This security feature was further enhanced in Firefox 52 for login pages that don't have a secure connection.

The Firefox Sync feature was also enhanced. You can now send and open tabs from one device to another. In order to use the Sync feature, you will need to have a Firefox account and be logged in.

Mozilla introduced support for FLAC playback, which is an audio format similar to MP3, but lossless, meaning that audio is compressed in FLAC, without any loss in quality. This means that you can now play, any FLAC file directly in Firefox.

In Firefox 52, you will find a an improved experience for managing your downloads. In the Downloads area, you will have quick access to five recent downloads as opposed to three (in previous versions). You will also find larger Cancel and Restart buttons.

In Firefox 53, Mozilla introduced two new Compact Themes. One light and one dark theme that you will find in your Add-ons section, under Appearance. You can activate one of the compact themes by clicking on the Enable button corresponding to the respective theme.

As is evident, Mozilla continues to put in significant effort into enhancing the performance and security of the Firefox internet browser. With Project Electrolysis and Project Quantum well underway, we can expect 2017 to be a year in which we see many positive changes in Firefox.

CREDITS: Browser Benchmark Tests Performed Using Browsermark from Basemark: | Firefox information and logos used under Creative Commons License Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) | Global Browser Usage from | Microsoft, Windows, and the Windows logo are trademarks, or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries | Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission | Other names may be trademarks of their respective owners.
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