Firefox 21 is out with some powerful new features and improvements that are not evident at the get go, but that add a lot of grunt to the world’s most used and favourite browser. Yeah I know the flak I might be triggering when I say the favourite browser, but this time I have some solid stats to back it up. Firefox is gaining quite substantially in the browser market share, while Chrome is witnessing some major decline.
Coming to the release, Firefox 21 puts more focus on improvements more related to performance and privacy. Developer related features also get some love in this iteration.
Major New Features
Improvements to Do Not Track
Firefox now provides three provisions regarding to tracking. Apart from being able to specify that you do not want to be tracked, you can now specify the opposite as well, with the default being set to the former. There is a curious new option of not telling the tracking preferences as well.
The privacy options can be accessed by going to Options > Privacy
Firefox Health Report
Firefox 21 includes a preliminary implementation of Firefox Health Report which gives you aggregated summary of your browser stats. Some stats include : add-ons installed, startup time and number of crashes. You can share your Firefox performance data by enabling Data Sharing (turned on by default). Mozilla notes that the IP addresses will not be logged by turning on data sharing.
To see your Firefox Health Report just go to Help > Firefox Health Report
Startup Improvements Tips
If your Firefox takes too long to start, Firefox will promptly display a dialog box leading you to tips on how to take care of the issue. Basically, Firefox just compares the browser startup time to the average recorded time and will prompt you if the difference is too big.
Expanded Social API
Firefox 17 saw the introduction of Social API with some neat Facebook Integration. Firefox 21 sees some improvements in this regards with the addition of support for four (not so popular) Social networking platforms. You can find more about it in this post by Mozilla.
Coming to the performance aspect, we have benchmarked Firefox 21 with Firefox 20, Google Chrome 26 and Internet Explorer 10. All the tests were done on Windows 8 Pro 64bit running on a HP G42-478Tx with the latest drivers.
Peacekeeper benchmarks reflects overall browser capabilities. This time around, Firefox saw some significant gains compared to Firefox 20. Chrome is still however vastly ahead in this suite.
Both Chrome 26 and Firefox 21 have seen some major gains in Mozilla’s comprehensive benchmark. Firefox 21 and Chrome 26 pretty much tie for the top spot, while Internet Explorer 10 is left biting the dust.
Firefox 21 has improved by huge margins in one of the crucial browser benchmarks, gaining as much as 814 points compared to Firefox 20. Interestingly, the once giant gap between Firefox and Chrome is closing in with each Firefox release.
Perhaps one of the oldest and trustworthy benchmarks (and the only one where Internet Explorer 10 dominates), Firefox 21 saw almost no change. Chrome 26 is slightly ahead than Firefox.
Memory Benchmarks: Firefox 21 vs Chrome 26 vs IE 10
Coming to real world metrics, we measured the memory consumed by each of the current browsers in two scenarios, single tab and multiple tabs. In the former case, Facebook was opened in each of the browser and the memory usage was noted after 5 minutes.
All the extensions / add-ons for Chrome and Firefox were disabled during the tests
Single Tab: Firefox 21 vs Chrome 26 vs IE 10
Firefox was at the fair middle ground in memory consumption with a single tab open. Chrome was a behemoth, with as much as 4 processes running for a single tab, despite all extensions being removed. Internet Explorer 10 was the lightest of them all with a memory consumption of just around 100 MB.
Multiple Tabs: Firefox 21 vs Chrome 26 vs IE 10
This is where Firefox clearly shines : Handling multiple tabs. Be it with Panoramic view (Ctrl + Shift + E) or be it effecient memory management, nothing comes close to Firefox in this regard. Chrome due to excessive sand boxing and process spawning clearly was at disadvantage but it should be noted that over the period of time Google Engineers have somewhat taken care of the excessive memory consumption. Internet Explorer 10 comes at an impressive second right next to Firefox with decent memory consumption.
Firefox 21 brings a slew of performance improvements across the board, coupled with some handy troubleshooting tools. Firefox 22 already looks promising and looks promising enough to carry this trend forward. Interesting times ahead.