Can Firefox be a Web browser contender again? Firefox 9.01 Review

The newest Firefox is faster, better, and its parent group is well financed, but is it this version, Firefox 9.01, good enough to win back fickle Web browser users?
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Firefox 9 keeps its classic look, but its much faster under the hood.

Firefox 9 keeps its classic look, but it's much faster under the hood.

December 20th, 2011 wasn't Mozilla's best day. No sooner had they released the latest version of Firefox than reports started coming in of a killer bug. By the next day, Mozilla had to release a bug-fix version of Firefox, 9.01, just to getting the popular Web browser working for users. Clearly, Mozilla's accelerated release schedule has real problems. Still, once the launch problem was cleaned up the new Firefox looks pretty darn good.

Let's start with its performance numbers. The last few versions of Firefox haven't been very fast. While generally speaking Firefox still isn't as fast as the current speed-demon Web browser, Chrome 16, it's better than it has been and faster than the rest.

As usual for my browser tests, I put Firefox up against the latest releases of Chrome and Internet Explorer, 9.08, on my Gateway DX4710 Windows 7 SP1 test box. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. It's hooked to the Internet via a Netgear Gigabit Ethernet switch, which, in turn, is hooked up to a 60Mbps (Megabit per second) cable Internet connection.

In addition, I've been running Firefox 9.01 on my main Linux Mint 12 desktop and my Mac OS X Snow Leopard and Lion desktops.

Firefox 9.01 gallery

On the HTML5 Test, which checks to see how compliant the Web browser is with the HTML5 Web page standard. This test was recently updated, January 1st, 2012, so I checked all the browsers again on it. Firefox came in second to Chrome 16 with 330 out of a possible 450 compared to Chrome's 373.

On the performance benchmarks, I first used Mozilla's own Kraken 1.1 benchmark. In Kraken, which like most Web browser benchmarks measures JavaScript performance, lower scores are better. Here, Chrome won over 3990.9ms to 4,634.6. This was the first time in ages though that Firefox has been competitive with Chrome. Firefox 9 is more than a third faster than Firefox 8. I could see the speed-up myself on all my PCs. This was the first time in ages that Firefox felt fast.

According to Google's JavaScript V8 Benchmark Suite, where higher scores are better, Chrome won once more. This time Chrome scored 7,661 and Firefox was second with 4,994. Once more though Firefox 9 was much faster than Firefox 8. IE? With a score of 2,230 it's barely in the running

When it came to SunSpider 0.9.1, where lower results are better, Chrome didn't do that well. IE won one out-right with a score of 272.5 by a nose over IE's 202.6ms, Firefox came in second with 303.5ms, and Chrome came in last with 319.7.

On the Peacekeeper Web browser test suite, which looks at JavaScript performance and also at HTML5 compatibility, video codec support and other Web browser features, Chrome won again. On this benchmark, where higher is better Chrome won again with a score of 2,673. Firefox and IE didn't so hot here with scores of 1,353 and 1,626 respectively.

Still, while Chrome is still the browser to beat for speed, Firefox was much more competitive than it has been in the recent past. Firefox also has some other significant security and stability improvements. All-in-all, this is the first Firefox release in a long time that I actually liked.

Or, to be more precise, the first one I liked once they cleaned out that nasty bug in 9.0. Now that Mozilla has taken care of its financial future for the next three years, thanks to its Google deal, I hope they slow down their development cycle and spend their money on delivering the best possible browser for PCs, tablets, and smartphones. If they put quality first over meeting a frantic deliver schedule, I think FIrefox really can be a contender again. I hope it will be.

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