Firefox 52 brings desktop apps to the web but could break your Google Hangouts

New version of Firefox should run complex apps much faster in the browser, but dropping support for some plug-ins could be an issue for Google Hangout fans.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director on

Mozilla has released the latest version of Firefox, which it says will allow complex apps to run much faster in the browser.

Firefox 52 adds support for WebAssembly, which Mozilla said allows for "near-native performance for games and apps".

It said WebAssembly, a low-level assembly-like language designed to run alongside JavaScript, will enable applications that have historically been too complex to run in browsers -- like 3D video games, computer-aided design, video and image editing, and scientific visualization -- to perform better, and said developers can also use WebAssembly to speed up many existing web apps.

It will let developers port code written in other languages to run inside of web browsers or to write code in lower-level languages that can compile and run in the browser much faster than JavaScript. This will let them build web apps that can run the most resource-intensive processes, such as those handling video playback, in a separate process that will be much faster than the existing approach.

Other additions include making it easier to log into some Wi-Fi hotspots, by making it simpler for the browser to detect 'captive portals' -- login pages for services like hotel Wi-Fi. Firefox 52 automatically detects captive portals and notifies the user that they need to log in to access the internet.

On security, Firefox now displays a "This connection is not secure" message when users click in the username and password fields on pages that don't use HTTPS.

Firefox has also disabled all plugins that use the Netscape Plugin API (NPAPI) besides Flash. "Silverlight, Java, Acrobat and the like are no longer supported," said the release notes. Mozilla said later this year "we'll further improve Firefox", so that Flash content is only activated with user consent.

But dropping these plug-ins will cause problems for Google Hangout users. "If you use Hangouts, you will have issues with audio and video calls, but chat will still work. This is a temporary issue while Google develops a way to make Hangouts work without plugins," Mozilla warned.

For its part, Google said it is "actively working" to develop a fix that will allow Hangouts to work in Firefox without a plugin.

"Using chat on Hangouts will continue to work for Firefox users; however, if you need to make phone or video calls from Hangouts, we encourage you and your employees to temporarily switch to one of the supported browsers," it said, which means shifting to Firefox Extended Support Release, Chrome, Internet Explorer or Safari.

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