Firefox Friday Four
I should lead with the biggest news from the week:
1. Mozilla releases Gecko 1.9.3 alpha 1 developer preview
I'm trying to work out exactly what this release is -- it's not Firefox 3.7, as some people are calling it, nor is it Firefox 4.0. It's actually a developer preview of the Gecko 1.9.3 rendering engine, shoehorned into a Firefox 3.6 UI.
There's no sign of the new 'Strata' FF 4.0 layout, or the new all-in-one orange button -- just lots and lots of bug fixes and speed-ups over Gecko 1.9.2 (the version used in Firefox 3.6). Of note, WebGL is now available (but needs to be activated manually), along with some animation/transition functionality for CSS and SVG. It sounds like scrolling speed has been improved too, hooray!
Earlier this week -- despite a logo that looks like a mouse trying to get it on with the planet Earth -- we celebrated Safer Internet Day by producing a list of great tools that should all but eliminate browsing 'hiccups'. Whether you are a parent trying to tighten up your child's surfing experience, or just looking for an inoculation to fend off the threats of malware and Trojan viruses, Lee's guide should set you on the right path in no time!
Many of the tools are standalone, but some such as Web of Trust or LastPass are Firefox add-ons and well worth the few seconds it takes to install them.
3. Speeding up the fat Fox
I think, by now, we're all well aware that Firefox is the slowest of the recent batch of web browsers. Sure, out of the box it might be competitive with IE8, but once you use add-ons (and why would you use FF over IE if it's not for add-ons?) it slows down to a crawl.
This is mostly because add-ons remain in memory and parse every single web page, whether they need to or not. Firebug is great, but if you forget to turn it off, it just hogs resources. Greasemonkey is awesome, but if you only use it for a Flickr userscript... isn't that a bit of a waste?
There are a few cool things you can do to speed things up though -- I've compiled a list!
- FlashBlock -- I know, everyone knows about FlashBlock by now. The main advantage, in my opinion, is that it stops Flash elements from loading until you need them. There's nothing worse than a Flash object in some background tab eating up your CPU cycles.
- BarTap -- now this is a clever little add-on! All it does is prevents new tabs from loading until you click it -- i.e. if you 'open in new tab', that new tab won't try to render and load itself into memory until you click it. Lee reviewed it earlier in the week and rather liked it!
- Are your add-ons necessary? -- in many cases, add-ons are overkill! How about using a bookmarklet instead -- bookmarklets only execute when you click them, saving you a lot of memory and CPU time. Lee compiled a great list last year, take a look!
- Reduce your memory footprint -- a lot of the slowness in Firefox is caused by massive page-file read/writes. Every time you change tabs, the contents have to be dredged from the hard disk and loaded back into memory. One way you can combat the memory used is to nuke your 'history' -- Tools > Options > Privacy > Firefox will... 'Use custom settings for history' -- then drop it down to a few days, rather than 90. You can also change your browser.sessionstore.interval in about:config to a more reasonable number, like 300,000 milliseconds -- this might also improve your video playback in Firefox!
4. Firefox loses ground to Chrome
Computerworld are reporting on some not-so-happy (but not unexpected) Firefox usage numbers. While Internet Explorer's market share continues to decline (a whole 10% in the last year), as does Firefox's. FF3.6, despite snaring 0.7% of the market, wasn't enough to shore up Firefox's total share -- overall, Firefox lost 0.2%, while Chrome gained 0.6%.
There was also small gains made by both Safari and Opera Mini (but Opera itself lost some ground -- maybe Opera 10.5 will help matters?!)