Firefox 5: New, but improved?

Yes, there's already a new version of Firefox out. Hurray! But, is there anything really "new" in it? Not so much.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

I've liked Firefox since it first showed up. But, this new Firefox 5 concerns me. Oh, it's a fine browser. But, it's not a major new release. At most, I'd call it Firefox 4.1, but really it's little more than Firefox 4.02.

The Mozilla Foundation, following in the footsteps of Google's Chrome Web browser, seems to believe that if they keep popping out new "major" releases every six weeks, they'll convince people they're better than the competition. That seemed like a dumb idea to me when Microsoft went from Word for Windows 2.0 to Word for Windows 6.0 back in 1993. The idea hasn't improved any with age.

Download.com: Firefox 5

At least, in the case of Google Chrome, though, there usually have been significant updates. Chrome 12, didn't deserve its new major release number either though. In upcoming versions of Chrome that may change. For example, We can look forward to Google building Skype-like video and Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) right into the browser. Firefox? Not so much.

As for Firefox 5 itself... well, let's see... uh. The Do Not Track feature, which makes it easy to keep advertisers' cookies under control, is easier to find in the Firefox Preferences section. Oh, and they finally got rid of the HTTP idle connection bug. That's good. Let me leaf through the rest of the Firefox 5 release notes.

Ah, let's see now, Firefox has also added extra security to its WebGL (Web-based Graphics Library), a Google-sponsored software library that brings hardware-accelerated 3D graphics to browsers, implementation. Mozilla developers did this by blocking cross-domain WebGL elements. In light of Microsoft's recent attacks against WebGL on security grounds, I count that as an important improvement.

On the other hand, in the few days I've played with the beta and few hours I've been working with the final version, I have to say that what I find most annoying about Firefox--its lack of stability, especially on Linux, and continued hunger for memory-doesn't seem to be improved much, if any.

Put it all together, though, is this enough to call this version of Firefox a major new release? No. It's not even close. Microsoft's IE programming crew got it right when, instead of a cake, they sent the Firefox developers a cupcake for this new release.

Page 2: [Standards and Performance] »

Standards and Performance

Alright, let's see if Firefox can earn its 5.0 in performance.

I've been working with Firefox 5.0 on both my Linux and Windows PCs. For benchmarking, I used my Gateway DX4710 running Windows 7 SP1. 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.

On this system, I ran not only Firefox, but Chrome 12 and Internet Explorer (IE) 9. Here's what I found.

First, Mozilla claims that has "Improved standards support. That's not what I found. On the Acid 3 compatibility test, which checks out how well a browser complies with various Web standards such as CSS, JavaScript, and Extensible Markup Language (XML), Firefox had a score of 97. Chrome had a perfect score of 100, and IE had a 95. Let's give Firefox a good, but not great mark here.

On the HTML5 Test, which checks to see how compliant the Web browser is with the HTML5 Web page standard, Firefox came in with 255 points out of a possible 400. Chrome did significantly better with a score of 291 out of a maximum of 400. IE's way in the back with 130 points.

Moving on to performance, I first tried the browsers out on Mozilla's own Kraken 1.0, which is their update of the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark In Kraken, the lower scores are best. Here, Firefox showed well with a respectable 7028.5ms, but Chrome 12 still held the lead with 5449.8ms. IE really shows poorly on this test wit a score of 17,051.9.

With Peacekeeper, where higher scores are better, Firefox really fell behind with 4,492 points. On this benchmark, IE finally wins one with a score of 8,343 to Chrome 12's 7,939.

According to JavaScript Google's V8 Benchmark Suite, where higher scores are better, Firefox does a mediocre job with a showing of 3,332 compared to Chrome 12's 7,797. Still, that's better than IE way, with its 2,193.

On old reliable, the oldest JavaScript Web benchmark, SunSpider JavaScript 0.9.1, where lower results are better, Firefox shows well with 302.7ms. This time though not only is Chrome 12 better with a score of 278, but IE 9 is better still with a result of 252.6.

What I can I say? I want to like Firefox. I've used it for years. But in terms of both features and performance, Firefox 5 is, at best, Firefox 4.02, and with Chrome getting every faster and better and even IE 9 showing there's life in Microsoft's developers after all, this new Firefox just doesn't cut the mustard.

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