Firefox has another update, luckily this time around it’s loaded with plethora of improvements and new features. After a couple of “boring” releases , we get to see some cool new features. Many of the proposed features have finally made their way to Firefox 13, after a lot of postponement. Tabs on demand, Speed Dial, memory optimizations, SPDY and smooth scrolling by default are notable features to get started with.
Download: Firefox 13 [15.8 MB]
As mentioned earlier last month, Firefox has implemented browser updating without requiring UAC in Firefox 12. Therefore existing Firefox users can just wait till they get notified automatically about the browser or point to Help > About Firefox to update the browser
So the new features are? Well plenty
They say 13 is a unlucky number, but looks like Firefox decided to prove otherwise. Firefox 13 has got a lot of improvements and new feature additions, describing each of which would take hours! Key tab browsing, performance improvements and lot of UI changes, which were long awaited, are highlights of this release.
Tabs on demand:
This new feature is absolutely God sent. This feature alone could make Firefox a gem of a browser, especially for heavy tab users. What this feature basically does is whenever you restart Firefox with all the tabs opened from the last session, only the particularly selected tabs are loaded. This prevents the browser from slowing down, boosts the start up time and prevents the browser from crashing.
As you will see, one of the awesome things about Firefox is that you can turn off a new feature if you do not want it. It would be particularly stupid in this case, but you can just deselect the don’t load tabs until selected in Firefox options to turn off tabs on demand.
New Home page
Firefox 13 comes with a brand new home page, which comes with easily accessible links to useful locations in the browsers like bookmarks, downloads, sync etc. This of course can be easily turned off via the preferences. The Restore Previous session option in the new home page is particularly handy as well.
New “Speed Dial”
We all know that the speed dial was first implemented by Opera browser, then followed by Chrome. Heck even Internet Explorer 9 has a similar feature in its kitty. Now Firefox too joins the bandwagon, with a very simple implementation. The speed dial shows the most visited sites whenever you open a new tab page. The Firefox speed dial has everything you would ever want, like the ability to pin favorite sites and close unwanted sites from displaying. You can even turn off the speed dial completely by clicking the small icon at the right. Though the thumbnails were not displayed as cleanly as Chrome.
Smooth Scrolling by default
You will find a couple of features that are not exactly “new” but set to default in this version of Firefox. Smooth scrolling has been around in Firefox from pretty long time but it had not been enabled due to dissents within Mozilla and some graphics driver issues. Again this is one of the features where Firefox is catching up to other major browsers.
Firefox 13 brings lot of performance improvements, notably the cycle collector. Cycle collector frees up memory when not required, which is very welcome. There is noticeable work done on improving the startup, though Firefox still doesn’t start instantaneously like Chrome.
There are plenty of other changes too which are well documented over here in the Mozilla blog. As expected, there were a lot less instances of crashes and “not responding” scenarios in this release, which is a common occurrence on Windows, something where Chrome beats Firefox. There are plenty of other performance improvements which are planned across various releases.
SPDY enabled by default
SPDY a.k.a the “speedy” protocol, is a networking protocol developed by Google to enable faster web page loading, reducing latency and improving security. As you might have guessed Chrome already has the support in place, meanwhile SPDY was introduced in Firefox 11 but not enabled by default. Now Firefox 13 enables SPDY by default. While not many sites have adapted to SPDY, most of the Google sites and Twitter are SPDY enabled, meaning you can expect faster page loading on these sites.
Other Improvements under the hood
Firefox 13 has over 72 total improvements to Page Inspector, HTML panel, scratchpad, style inspector and style editor. Apart from that there are plenty of CSS fixes implemented.
As usual we benchmarked Firefox against latest iteration of Google Chrome. This time overall, Firefox showed a lot of improvement in performance, when compared to earlier releases and the performance has stopped depreciating, the trend which was seen after Firefox 11. We ran Kraken 1.1, Sunspider 0.9.1 and Google v8 version 6.
The Machine used for the benchmarks is HP G42 laptop with Core i3 (1st gen) clocked at 2.4 GHz, 6 GB DDR3 of 1066 MHz RAM, ATI Mobility Radeon 512 MB GDDR3 graphics and a 5400 RPM Western Digital Hard drive. Hardware Acceleration was turned on for both Firefox and Chrome
Kraken is one of the more intricate and challenging benchmarks from Mozilla, and is also one of the most relied relied upon benchmark as well. This time, we witnessed significant performance gains on both Chrome and Firefox. Firefox was in its best shape during Kraken improving a lot since Firefox 12. Chrome on the other hand continued its subtle improvements beating Firefox again after the massive performance gain we saw from Chrome 18.
Sunspider Benchmarks once again showed significant improvements since Firefox 11, and all the regressions that occurred in Firefox 12 seems to be fixed in this release. Chrome on the other hand continuing to improve by a great margin over its predecessors, beat Firefox handily.
Coming straight to the point, Firefox 13 continued the trend of getting slaughtered by Google Chrome in Google’s own benchmark. Though Firefox saw very minor performance gain, it was not nowhere near close to Chrome. We would expect Mozilla to catch up on this soon.
As mentioned earlier, there have been a lot of performance optimizations. Firefox delivers impressively this time around too. We got around 430 MB of memory consumption when we opened our usual set of websites, comprising a bunch of Google sites, TechSplurge, Twitter, Facebook and a couple of other static blogs and YouTube 360p video playing in the background. While Chrome has improved marginally when compared to its predecessor, as we love to emphasize again and again, the difference between the two browsers is mind boggling when it comes to resource consumption.
Seeing the above chart , you would not be so convinced about the memory consumption improvements. The below screenshot which was taken from Chrome’s own task manager which essentially displays both browsers’ memory consumption. For displaying the exact same number of pages mentioned above (this time barring YouTube because of Flash) the latest iteration of Chrome munches around 1.2 GB of memory more than Firefox. While Firefox drops to all time new low of 380 MB. While not very accurate because it drops few extensions and processes while measuring the memory consumption, this certainly screenshot certainly stands as a witness to Google’s sloppy attitude when it comes to optimise the resource consumption regardless of what “sandbox” technique it uses.
The performance optimization juggernaut of Firefox is no way stopping over here, as Mozilla is busy fixing few more memory leaks which are caused by addons. This fix can cause “over 80% reduction” in memory consumption which will be plain awesomeness. Our hearty kudos for the Firefox developers for these amazing efforts for reducing the memory footprint.
As we always tend to observe, the CPU consumption is pretty uniform for both the browsers, with Firefox consuming around 3.5% CPU with the same number of tabs open. While Chrome consumed little around 5% for the same. Basically, neither of the two browsers are too taxing on the CPU as such, with a slight margin going to Firefox.
Of course, we are not even considering the CPU crunching flash here either for Chrome or Firefox
“Woah! Firefox is perfect!!” not there yet
While we do appreciate the splendid performance of Firefox in the resource consumption area, there is a still a lot of work to do when it comes to startup and general responsiveness particularly on windows. Chrome starts instantaneously, has far less crashes, doesn’t “slow down” often and has very responsive UI which explains Chrome trumping Firefox in market share. Firefox needs to work on the overall responsiveness of the interface and fix random crashing of browser on Windows. We expect upcoming versions to improve on these areas.
With significant changes on the surface coupled with terrific performance enhancements, Firefox 13 offers a stable, very fast and a secure browser experience, without intruding on your privacy or hijacking your PC resources (ahem Chrome). Things only look brighter for the future Firefox releases with the addon memory leak fix, and a couple of more performance optimizations which are already in the nightly channel.