Mozilla launched their highly anticipated Firefox Quantum browser this week. Is this something you should upgrade to? Is it worth it? Mozilla says that Firefox Quantum is twice as fast as the versions of Firefox released in 2016. Which wasn’t that long ago, so they must have made some incredible improvements over the last year. They also say it’s less taxing on your computer’s memory and uses 30% less than the latest version of Google Chrome. Which makes you wonder doesn’t it? How does Mozilla manage to accomplish this?
According to Nick Nguyen, Vice President of Product at Firefox, “This story starts a couple of years ago. Probably the most unique aspect of Firefox Quantum, our secret sauce, is its use of Rust, the programming language that we developed, to run parts of the browser in parallel (e.g CSS engine), utilizing multiple CPU cores.” Which is where Quantum really puts itself ahead of its competitors – through the use of Rust:
“Browsers have traditionally been written in C++. When programming in C++, it’s rather easy for programmers to inadvertently introduce bugs or security vulnerabilities when they try creating complex algorithms that run in parallel. Rust has allowed us to code new algorithms that make the web experience in Firefox Quantum super fast and safe.”
According to Nguyen, they are also using a few extra tricks, like prioritizing the foreground tabs rather than the tabs you’re not looking at. He also says that it will load the content you care about first (the article you’re reading) rather than contextual design elements like logos or ads. Which does sound pretty awesome, doesn’t it? It does to me anyway. Especially as someone who constantly has at least 5 tabs open at all times in my attempt to learn how to multi-task better.
In order to demonstrate the difference between this version of Firefox and Google Chrome, Mozilla has actually released a side-by-side comparison between the two browsers. More specifically demonstrating how it opens with ten popular sites:
Nguyen explains that what makes Firefox Quantum work so well is the new CSS engine. He explains how it works:
“Because battery life is so important, most modern computers utilize multiple processing cores to execute programs. Writing software for multiple processors is difficult for many reasons, not the least of which being that the most popular programming languages today were not created with multi-core processing in mind, requiring developers to do a lot of mental bookkeeping to prevent errors. With Rust, we had a hand in creating a programming language where many of the common errors associated with programming for these systems are simply impossible.
Computing styles for CSS is a difficult task and up until now, one that was hard to split onto multiple cores because of the complexity of the work. To take advantage of the most common modern hardware, we wrote the new multi core CSS engine, Stylo, in Rust, speeding up our development time and minimizing the chance of errors.”
There really is a big change from the older versions of Firefox to Quantum, so it does feel like this is something that people should consider upgrading. But maybe the real reason to upgrade is that Firefox Quantum is actually concerned about the privacy of those that use its software. With that, Nguyen states, “What also sets the new Firefox browser apart is that it’s backed by Mozilla, a not-for-profit, with a mission to keep the internet open and accessible to all. It is not run by the world’s largest advertising company.” There you have it – speed and security.