Microsoft

Review: Pale Moon web browser for Windows

Matt Nawrocki takes a look at an optimized web browser that may not be as optimized as advertised.

With the recent news about Google's switch to the Blink engine and Mozilla experimenting with a multi-core optimized Firefox engine called Servo, there is quite a bit of change on the horizon for under-the-hood technologies that power the browsers we love.

We have browser choices in addition to the standard fare of Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer, and Chrome. On a higher level, however, there are projects that are considered offshoots of open source mainline browsers like Firefox and Chrome that apply their own twists and special sauce, all the while keeping a major bulk of the engine underneath mostly the same.

Pale Moon

For instance, a browser I reviewed in April of 2012 called Waterfox is a special 64-bit Windows optimized build of Firefox which is said to improve upon performance and efficiency. Today, we look at competing project called Pale Moon, which is another Firefox derivative.

Although the goals and objectives of Pale Moon are quite similar to an offshoot like Waterfox, developer priorities for features beyond core functionality are different. For example, where Waterfox caters solely to 64-bit operating systems, Pale Moon provides optimized builds for both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows as well as axing unnecessary extras, such as accessibility and parental control capabilities.

Pale Moon is developed to take advantage of newer processors in a very significant manner. If you are still stuck on a pokey Pentium III or other SSE-only x86 processor, Pale Moon will not run and that's a sign that you are due for a hardware upgrade. In such an event, your only recourse is the standard version of Firefox, albeit suffering any potential optimizations that could make your browsing experience, faster, more powerful and elegant.

The user interface looks almost completely identical to Firefox.

Benchmarks

When you install and run Pale Moon for the first time, the user interface strongly resembles that of regular Firefox, with the only superficial difference being a blue-centered theme for the UI. Under that seemingly copy-cat façade lurks a tweaked Gecko engine that, according to the author's website, will render pages up to 30% percent faster than regular Firefox. Of course, as the developer mentions, your mileage may vary. In my initial tests, I found the experience to be nearly the same as Firefox. Still, I felt that synthetic benchmarks were in order, just to ensure that I covered all my bases.

Oddly enough, in my quest to properly benchmark Pale Moon and Firefox, I made a rather startling discovery. Firefox would always seem to outpace Pale Moon in the tests, and sometimes by a significant margin. Take The Real-World Browser Benchmark by ClubCompy for instance. This test pumps sprite collisions, canvas patterns, and a Mandelbrot Set Fractal Zoomer all in one.

When I received my results, my overall iterations score for Pale Moon 64x was around 8,168 out of 50,000 possible points. Firefox in comparison raced past Pale Moon with a 9,344 out of 50,000 score. To say I was confused is an understatement. Thankfully, synthetic benchmarks don't always deliver the full story, and it becomes important to actually use a browser on a daily basis for a short while to see if there are any noticeable gains or losses in performance, so your experiences might turn out positive.

As you can see, Firefox handed Pale Moon its head on a platter.

Honestly, when it comes to these variants of Firefox, I believe it boils down to personal preference. Depending on your configuration, you might benefit from Pale Moon's particular optimizations, whereas vanilla Firefox might edge out more. However, in all of this, there is one important fact to note, and that is that Pale Moon is fully compatible with all of your Firefox extensions, thanks in part to the fact that the code is entirely sourced from the Firefox project. Compiled plugins however could break under Pale Moon, since the binaries are different and Pale Moon could be missing what's required to run them.

Bottom line

If you are ultimately feeling adventurous and would like to try a new "flavor of the week" as it were in Firefox browsers, Pale Moon might be of interest to you. While raw scores from synthetic benchmarks can seem disappointing, if not potentially misleading, your particular hardware and software configuration could be the place where Pale Moon shines in rather than suffers.

Also read:

About

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

14 comments
kenlee7
kenlee7

IceDragon is also based on code from Firefox. But it's big advantage is surfing in virtual mode. That means the browser cannot pick up any viruses or malware that can be downloaded onto the computer. Talk about safe surfing!

ronfdunn
ronfdunn

I don't feel so bad now that my Dell Inspiron One with a Core i3 and 6gb of RAM running Win7 using Internet Explorer 9 as my browser. I ran the Compy Benchmark test and got back: DONE! Your browser's total score is 12611 out of a possible 50000. I haven't run it on my Laptop with Intel Core i7 With 8gb of RAM yet but but I'm assuming that it would be even faser than my 'desktop'. I put the Desktop in qoutes because it is basically a glorified all in one laptop with a touch screen, seperate key board & mouse. I haven't updated to Win8 yet so don't use the touch screen that much yet. Like you said it has alot to do with each individule system, each being different will give different results!

Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com
Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com

I feel that this proliferation of browsers is almost on par with the cellphone / cable / internet scenario. There was a time when very few people had those things, but as it grew and grew it became so ridiculous as to what they were doing, I mean really?...can Dish and DirectTV NOT swap parts and be the SAME THING? I can see why someone would want to move away from Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but to have Opera, Safari, Firefox and the lesser know ones....(Sea-monkey, Midori, Epiphany...etc) it seems there's a whole slew of "different" browsers out there, but in all actuality you only need ONE (possibly two!) to do what you want them to do: BROWSE THE WEB!...maybe there should be more effort in closing the security gaps in some of those browsers, instead of trying to "one-up" each other all the time?...IN all actuality?.....find the browser that "does it" for you...select it.....customize it...and be happy with it!

Rob C
Rob C

Reply button does not work when I try it ? cgrantham65, My portable Palemoon was version 19 yesterday. I used the built in update option, and it is now 20.0.1 The exe I was using does not get replaced, instead it creates a sub folder to cater for the update) DSchr, Having a simple way to have mutliple portable versions, gets my interest (with Bells On)

DSchr
DSchr

Small tweaks, possibly even bogus ones, fail to get my interest. Bring a game-changer, or put your effort elsewhere.

cgrantham65
cgrantham65

Pale Moon is typically updated soon after Firefox releases there update. In the evaluation you posted, Firefox appears to have been updated to v20 already while Pale Moon was still on v19.

Rob C
Rob C

I would also appreciate info about who develops it, and thus how safe is it ? I don't know if it is faster, but a review of Comodo IceDragon (a trimmed FF) would be of benefit to others. I have fallen in love with it. You tick one box during 'Install' to make it portable. Make that copy a 'mask' and add necessities to it (EG NoScript, and MAFF, and Get your wee search box up the top.). Then create folders for categories such as Hardware, Software, etc. Copy the contents of your mask into those. Pick a theme for each (I used solid colors). Then take your (my) 370 Tabs from FF and distribute them into your IceDragons. I now have 30 Tabs in FF, and it is like a weight off my shoulders. You can run any one IceDragon whilst FF is running. Don't run two IceDragons at the same time. (They also have a browser based on Chrome, called Dragon. I don't see why the world loves Chrome. But I did get a copy of Dragon, as apparently Comodo knows how to manage updates better than flippin Google. The lack of NoScript scares me in Chrome, and that also means that I will only use Dragon for safe subject browsing.)

geoffejohnson
geoffejohnson

As a web developer the last thing I need right now is another browser to have to deal with. My own situation aside, why does the world NEED another browser? We all know that in terms of features and performance the major browsers are constantly leapfrogging each other. I don't understand the mentality of any group of developers who feel the need to reinvent the wheel yet again - apart perhaps for their own satisfaction.

Ken Wolf
Ken Wolf

I noticed it suffered from the same memory management issues that plague FireFox. The longer it is open the more system memory it consumes. Really did not notice any increase in performance over FireFox. If there were any improvements, they were minimal. But as Mr. Nawrocki points out, your mileage may vary.

kalameddine
kalameddine

I try to use as many Firefox based Browsers, because they do not overload with temporary files. However, Palemoon uses a lot of RAM, rendering any PC slower. If there is a lighter weight browser like Sea Monkey that comes full up with on top of it all an E Mail Client, which by the way,is Opera's best feature, in which they excel, I would be grateful. I use Waterfox to be on the safe side. I read above that there is a 64 bit Palemoon. Are You sure, or you mean the x86 browser. Thank You. Karim Alameddine

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

but never have tried it out. But, out of curiosity, just ran the Compy test thing on my Compaq Presario CQ62 notebook, Win7 Ultimate 32bit, SP1, and MSIE 10, scored 11495/50000 rwb points. Ran the test with Opera 11.64 and it scored 7642/50000 rwb points on the CQ62 (2 gig RAM). On my Dell Inspiron 531S desktop running WinXP SP3, 3 gig RAM, Opera 11.64 scored 6990, and on my lowly Acer Aspire One ZG5 netbook, WinXP SP3, 1 gig RAM, Opera 11.64 only scored 3864...so the test is dependent on hardware as well as operating system. Might run it again on the netbook booted to Slax just for comparison. edit to add: Ran the test with then netbook booted to Slax 7.0.5, Opera 11.64, scored 2780/50000 rwb points. Sometimes these tests are a bit confusing, but they can give the user a basic guide to go by.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Matt's benchmark testing did not reveal much in the way of performance optimization for Pale Moon. Have you used Pale Moon? Do you see improvements in performance? What is Pale Moon's niche?

Ndiaz.fuentes
Ndiaz.fuentes

The thing probably has next to no market share. In any case, it's the same Gecko engine so if your page works in FF, it should work in Pale Moon.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Benchmark scores can be all over the place and I'm not entirely sure why this is. My test system for this article was a Dual Core i7 laptop with an Intel HD Graphics 4000 core and 4 GB of system memory. Who knows what the underlying issues could be, hence why I wanted to end this review with an up-in-the-air conclusion and let my readers judge for themselves.