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Firefox 3.1 raises the browser bar ... again

Competition is a good thing, and the way that Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome have re-invigorated browser development will mean good a better web experience all round.
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Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributor on

Competition is a good thing, and the way that Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome have re-invigorated browser development will mean good a better web experience all round.

Let's be honest, Internet Explorer never really offered Firefox much of a challenge. Internet Explorer has only really managed to remain relevant through being included with every copy of Windows. Much the same can be said of Safari on the Mac (it's nice to see that the WebKit rendering engine has a new home in Chrome). When Google released Chrome, Firefox could finally pick on a kid that was the same size.

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Yesterday Mozilla announced that Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 was available for download. This brings with it a whole new raft of features and improvements:

  • Web standards improvements in the Gecko layout engine
  • Added support for CSS 2.1 and CSS 3 properties
  • A new tab-switching shortcut that shows previews of the tab you’re switching to
  • Improved control over the Smart Location Bar using special characters to restrict your search
  • Support for new web technologies such as the <video> and <audio> elements, the W3C Geolocation API, JavaScript query selectors, web worker threads, SVG transforms and offline applications.

The new tab-switching feature is really neat (press CTRL+TAB to get a view of all the open tabs), and the special character support for the Awesome Bar makes life a lot easier (for example, you can restrict the search to your history by typing ^, or search only bookmarks using *, or tagged pages with +, if you want to match only text in the URL type @, and for title and tags only use #). Immediately we get usability gains without chrome overload or bloat. Nice.

But the real changes in Firefox 3.1 are under the hood.

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I decided to see how far Firefox had come along by making it jump through a few hoops.

Note: For these tests I used the nightly build of Firefox 3.1 - Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 6.0; en-US; rv:1.9.1b2pre) Gecko/20081014 Minefield/3.1b2pre for those interested.

Three tests:

  • ACID 3 web standard test
  • SunSpider JavaScript benchmark
  • V8 JavaScript benchmark

ACID 3

In this test Firefox has taken a strong lead over Chrome:

ACID 3 test available here.

SunSpider JavaScript benchmark

Here Mozilla developers have managed to dramatically improve the JavaScript processing time in Firefox 3.1, again taking the lead over Chrome:

SunSpider JavaScript benchmark available here.

V8 JavaScript benchmark

When it comes to Google's V8 JavaScript benchmark, Chrome still holds a commanding lead over Firefox 3.1:

V8 JavaScript benchmark

V8 JavaScript benchmark available here.

Closing thoughts ...

I never thought I'd ever say this again (having lived through the browser wars of the late 90s), but I'm so glad that the browser wars have re-ignited and that developers are concentrating on performance, standards and stability rather than "here today, gone tomorrow" gimmicks. In normal day-to-day use I'm using Firefox more and more, and actually enjoying it, but I have to admit that I also like Chrome because the browser feels snappier under heavy load (not to mention a lot more robust). Firefox and Chrome make Internet Explorer (even IE8, currently in beta) both look and feel like a lumbering dinosaur waiting to be made extinct.

Thoughts?

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