By Katherine Noyes, PCWorldSep 27, 2011 10:23 am PDT
Six weeks to the day after the official release of Firefox 6, Mozilla on Tuesday rolled out Firefox 7, the next version of its popular Web browser for Windows, Mac, Linux and Android users.
The new release comes as part of the rapid release schedule Mozilla implemented for Firefox earlier this year, by which users are offered upgrades every six weeks.
Business users who want less-frequent updates will soon have a slower alternative schedule, as I noted last week. The first such enterprise-focused Extended Support Release (ESR) version of desktop Firefox is expected to be based on Firefox 8 or 9 later this year.
In the meantime, there are plenty of reasons to make the switch to this newest version, which is now available as a free download. Many of them, in fact, boil down to one key thing: faster speed.
1. Memory Management
Ever since Firefox 7 entered the Aurora channel back in July, its primary focus has been speedier performance and better use of memory, and that emphasis is apparent in the software released today.
Firefox 7 manages memory more efficiently than its predecessors did, Mozilla says, for a speedier Web browsing experience. “Users will notice Firefox is faster at opening new tabs, clicking on menu items and buttons on websites,” the organization says. “Heavy Internet users will enjoy enhanced performance when lots of tabs are open and during long Web browsing sessions that last hours or even days.”
A new Mozilla Hacks blog entry posted today offers several key metrics demonstrating Firefox’s new nimbleness.
2. More Speed
New tools included in Firefox 7, meanwhile, are designed to make it easier for developers to build speedy Web experiences for users. A new version of hardware-accelerated Canvas, for instance, speeds up HTML5 animations and games in the browser, allowing developers to build more compelling and interactive Web experiences.
Firefox now also supports the W3C navigation timing spec API so developers can measure page load time and website navigation against bandwidth speed, website traffic and other factors. This API allows developers to test user experiences remotely and easily so they can quickly optimize websites and Web apps for different types of users.
3. A New Performance Tool
Focusing on future speeds, Firefox 7’s new Telemetry tool collects performance feedback so as to help Mozilla make future Firefox releases even faster.
“Firefox 7 marks a turning point in how we measure Firefox performance,” reads a Mozilla Hacks blog post from this morning on the topic. “Traditionally we measured Firefox performance on individual developer machines and our build & release infrastructure. However it turns out synthetic benchmarks do not correspond to real-world Firefox usage: it is difficult to model a ‘typical’ computer in a lab environment.”
Exceptionally slow consumer hardware, changes in usage patterns and preinstalled “bloatware” can all affect Firefox performance in unexpected ways, the post notes.
The browser’s new Telemetry tool will prompt users to opt into reporting performance data to Mozilla. “This data will supplement our existing benchmarking infrastructure to help us optimize future Firefox releases,” the post explains.
Telemetry performance metrics are very lightweight, however, and will not negatively impact Firefox performance, Mozilla says.
4. Add-On Compatibility
When Firefox 6 launched, 97 percent of add-ons compatible with Firefox 5 were still compatible with version 6, according to Mozilla add-ons product manager Justin Scott, who wrote a blog post yesterday on the topic.
Not only that, but “we’re on track to launch Firefox 7 tomorrow with 99 percent compatibility from 6,” Scott added. With Firefox 8, which will reach beta later this week, compatibility issues should improve even more, he wrote.
By supporting tools like WebSockets across desktop and mobile platforms, Firefox lets developers create faster, seamless Web applications for use on mobile phones, tablets and computers. Firefox also now supports the W3C navigation timing spec API across desktop and mobile platforms, so developers can optimize websites and Web apps for different types of devices, platforms and networks.
A number of features in Firefox for Android, meanwhile, are designed to make it faster to browse the mobile Web, such as the ability to copy any website text and paste it into emails, website forms and SMS messages.
6. Free, as in Beer
Firefox is free in more ways than one. First and foremost is that it costs you nothing to install, use or upgrade–a winning feature by most accounts, though certainly not Firefox’s only one.
7. Free, as in Freedom
Perhaps even more important, though, is that Firefox is open source software and so it doesn’t restrict your use of the browser in any way. There’s no vendor lock-in, and it’s eminently flexible and customizable to your needs.
Also significant is that Mozilla is what it calls a public benefit organization, existing not to make money but to make the Web better for everyone.