Firefox 6: A Firefox too far? (Review)

Firefox 6 is better than the Firefox 5 Web browser. That's the good news. As for the rest, well I'm not impressed.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

I used to love Firefox. For many years, it was the best Web browser around. Then, it got old and cranky. The good news is that Mozilla got serious about improving it. The bad news is that everyone else, even Microsoft with Internet Explorer 8 in 2009, did too. The other Web browser developers have caught up and surpassed Firefox. Worse still, the last few versions of Firefox haven't been that good. Firefox 6, the newest version, is better than Firefox 5, but it's not that great either.

Like most modern Web browsers, Firefox 6 has a "less is more" style interface. If that's not to your taste, and I confess I like having real menus, Firefox does make it easy to bring back a more traditional Web browser interface.

Firefox also now supports, ala Google Chrome Web browser, pinned tabs. With these I can always have my favorite Web sites ready to go in tabs kept pinned to the left side of the tab bar.

I also liked that Firefox is continuing to work on improving its security. Firefox is about as safe as a browser can get these days.

Download.com: Firefox 6

This version of Firefox also does much better than previous versions at managing memory. Unfortunately, you really need to be a techie if you want to use the about:memory option to bring Firefox's endless hunger for RAM under control. While I'm a techie myself, and I appreciate this level of access to the program's memory use, I think 99% of users would have been happier with even better, and invisible, memory management.

I know that Firefox 7 will have better memory management. I also know that Firefox 7 is due out on September 27th. I would have been just as happy to wait for that and then for Mozilla to have released Firefox 6. As it is, Firefox 6 feels like a placeholder.

Don't get me wrong. Firefox 6 is better than Firefox 5. That last version of Firefox crashed more often than a drunken teenager behind the wheel of a sports car.

OK, that was the good news. Here's the bad news.

First, I, and a lot of other people, am already sick and tired of Firefox's manic major release schedule Come on! Stop spending to much time playing with your major release designations, and just focus getting the software right, OK?

This isn't just me being grumpy. I've found one Web site, my bank as it happens, that works fine with Firefox, but it doesn't recognize Firefox 6 as being a valid Web browser. Yes, some of that is sloppy programming on their side, but Web browsers have to be ready for messy Web sites. As it is, I "fixed" the problem by using User Agent Switcher to mask Firefox 6's Web browser identity with an older version of Firefox's identity.

Firefox 6: A first look (Gallery)

At least that Firefox extension would work for me. Far, far too many others don't work. Mozilla developer, Dave Townsend, claimed earlier this year that "Faster releases are good for add-ons." No, they're not.

Just because Mozilla developers are paid to keep up with constant change doesn't mean that individual developers or small independent software vendors (ISV)s can keep up. From what I'm seeing they're falling behind supporting Firefox with its six-week release schedule.

Even the big ISVs seem to be having trouble. For example, Adobe Flash on Firefox 6 on Mint Linux is failing for me. Chrome's built-in version of Flash works just fine on the same Web sites on the same version of Linux. Go figure.

I also have to say that when it comes to raw performance, Firefox isn't blazing into the lead. Far from it.

I've been using Firefox 6.0 on both my Linux and Windows XP and 7 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 Windows system, I ran not only Firefox, but Chrome 13 and Internet Explorer (IE) 9 to see how Firefox 6 compared to its chief rivals

Firefox, once more, didn't do well on Web standards. 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. These were the same marks for the browsers the last time I checked in on them.

On the HTML5 Test, which checks to see how compliant the Web browser is with the HTML5 Web page standard, Firefox showed a significant improvement. This time, it came in with 313 points out of a possible 400. Unfortunately for Firefox, Chrome did even better with a score of 340 out of a maximum of 400. IE? Microsoft can say what they will about HTML 5 support, but it still came in dead last with 130 points.

As for pure 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 was, at best, OK with a score of 7588.2ms. That's a trifle slower than Firefox 5. Chrome 13 zipped into first place with 4927.7ms. IE? Ahem, IE came with a stinker of a score 17,051.9.

With Peacekeeper, where higher scores are better, Firefox really fell behind with 4,588 points. On this benchmark, IE surged ahead with a score of 8,343 to Chrome 13's 8,010.

According to Google's own JavaScript benchmark V8 Benchmark Suite, where higher scores are better, Firefox does a mediocre job with a showing of 3,614 compared to Chrome 12's 7,677. Firefox scored much better than IE way, with its 2,193, but on this benchmark it's not even in Chrome's ballpark.

As for SunSpider 0.9.1, the oldest JavaScript Web benchmark, where lower results are better, Firefox shows well with 301.2ms. Unfortunately, Chrome 13 with 289.3, and IE 9 with 252.6 are still better

And, when all is said and done, that's also my verdict on Firefox 6. The other browsers are better. While I can't recommend IE 9 for all Windows users, since Microsoft has seen fit to not make it available to XP users, I can recommend Chrome for everyone. I wish I coud still recommend Firefox, but I can't.

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