Firefox Leaps Ahead With Versions 6, 7, and 8

Mozilla may have caused a small uproar over its lack of a strategy for businesses when it released Firefox 5, but there's no denying that the browser is making leaps and bounds as it marches onward with subsequent versions.

Firefox 6, for example, reached the beta stage on Friday with versions ready for testing on Linux, Windows, Mac, and Android.

Among the new additions to the desktop version are the capability to check that plug-ins are up-to-date directly from the Add-ons Manager, as well as improved Panorama Groups, allowing users to reduce browser startup time by loading only saved tab groups when they use Panorama. An improved address bar, meanwhile, highlights the domain name of the website you’re visiting to make it easier to identify where you are online.

Enhanced for Large-Screen Tablets

Also included in the beta version of Firefox 6 are a streamlined site identity block feature, support for Web Sockets with a prefixed API, a new Web developer-specific menu, support for server-sent events, and the capability to quickly build and test JavaScript snippets in the browser.

On the Android side, Firefox 6 starts faster and uses less memory, and it also offers higher-quality image scaling, with less pixelation. The Firefox experience has been enhanced for large-screen tablets, and touch events offer better interaction with Web pages, Mozilla says.

IndexedDB allows Web pages to store data offline for faster access, and there's also an improved form helper, a “fresh visual style” on Gingerbread, and automatic text hyphenation.

Improved Memory Management

Then, of course, there's Firefox 7, which on Thursday entered the Aurora channel.

Particularly notable about this release are that it's “focused on delivering performance enhancements and optimizing memory utilization,” in Mozilla's own words, and also that it includes new Web and server technology and tools so developers can build performance tests directly into the browser and boost Firefox's speed further.

Firefox 7 offers a faster startup time on Windows, Linux and Mac, Mozilla says, as well as enhanced font rendering and enabling bookmarks and passwords to sync instantly.

Improved memory management in Firefox 7, meanwhile, results in memory usage reductions of 30 percent or more along with enhanced responsiveness, Mozilla says. Also new is that the JavaScript garbage collector runs frequently to free more memory when Firefox is idle.

20 Percent Faster

As for Firefox 8, it just appeared in Mozilla's Nightly channel, but already reports are suggesting that it's as much as 20 percent faster than Firefox 5 on pretty much every metric, putting it on par with Chrome 14.

In fact, on startup, session restore, JavaScript execution, 2D canvas and 3D WebGL rendering as well as first paint--including not just how long it takes Firefox to appear after its icon is clicked but also how long it takes to re-open previous tabs--Firefox 8 outshines Firefox 5 by a significant margin, according to a Monday report on ExtremeTech.

“This isn’t merely an under-the-hood, synthetic-benchmark, on-paper thing either: the difference between FF5 and FF8 is very, very noticeable,” ExtremeTech's Sebastian Anthony wrote.

Ongoing Momentum

Overall, Mozilla may have taken a blow in the corporate world by initially disregarding enterprise users with its new, Chrome-style rapid-release schedule. It's now working on that, though, in addition to these exciting new Firefox releases.

I'm betting the result will maintain or even surpass the momentum we saw with Firefox 4.

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