Time to take another look at Firefox

Remember when Firefox was slow and bloated, and Chrome was the slim browser of choice? Those days are over.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Users who stuck with Firefox, even when it viewed RAM as an infinite resource, have been rewarded for their stamina over the past few months as the browser has significantly reduced its footprint.

Thanks to Mozilla's MemShrink project, Firefox is once again safe to recommend to friends as a decent default browser.

With Firefox 18 arriving this week, it was a good opportunity to see how the memory usage of the different browsers stacked up.

Below is a screenshot of the memory usage of Firefox and Chromium on my Arch Linux box after loading an identical set of tabs. I used Chrome's about:memory page to see memory usage.

(Screenshot by Chris Duckett/ZDNet)


In the interest of not wanting to taint the results with freedom and open source, I conducted a similar test on Windows 8 because, sadly, browser vendors optimise their browsers much better for Windows than other platforms.

The set of tabs I loaded into each browser was Google+, Gmail, Google Drive and 5 open spreadsheets, Google Reader, and an Omniture statistics instance. There's a simple reason why I choose Google properties to test memory consumption — they like loading large amounts of JavaScript.

The three browsers tested were Chrome 24, Firefox 18, and IE 10.

memory usage2
(Screenshot by Chris Duckett/ZDNet)


While the margins between the results is not large and the test was only on 10 tabs, it's clear which browsers are better at memory management. Over the course of an hour or so, I watched Firefox and Chrome saving memory here and there, often being neck and neck, or a slight edge to Firefox, while in IE's case, more RAM was consumed as time went on — a small leak must have been in there somewhere.

I don't think the memory difference is enough for Chrome users to down tools and move over to Firefox immediately. There's still the issue of raw performance itself. As arewefastyet.com shows, Firefox still lags behind the WebKit browser on JavaScript benchmarks (Firefox 18 has a new JavaScript engine, which is the purple line on the linked graphs).

But no longer should Firefox be regarded as an application with an insatiable appetite for memory.

If you dumped Firefox in the past for the pastures of Chrome, take the latest version for a spin, you may find yourself liking it again.

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