Over the past couple of years, I've noticed something coming from the Mozilla developers—they've been slowly rebuilding Firefox with an eye on reclaiming that coveted spot as the number one browser. This happened at a sloth's pace, feature by feature. It was almost imperceptible, but with each new release, the open source browser added or improved a feature that made me think, "They're getting close."
And then comes Firefox Quantum—the 57th iteration of the open source browser. With this new release all of those tiny steps forward come together, with the addition of an added giant leap, to finally have me using Firefox as my default.
I was surprised as well.
I've been using Chrome for a very long time. The reasons were many, but centered around two things: speed and sync. Chrome is fast and has one of the better built-in sync tools, such that I can log into any Chrome browser and my data is there.
At some point, during one of the many Firefox development cycles, the ability to sync was added in. So that ticked off one of the necessary boxes for me. But there was still that speed—that precious speed. For years, the speed of Chrome was the benchmark. Both the Chrome startup and page rendering time were tops, seemingly impossible to beat.
And again ... then comes Firefox Quantum.
I started using Quantum roughly two weeks before the official release. At first it was just to test the waters; I wanted to see if the developers managed to pull off something I assumed would fall short. That first day was an eye opener. I installed Quantum via the firefox-next PPA, assuming the beta would be buggy and less than they promised.
Upon installation, I fired up Firefox to watch it almost immediately open. That, in and of itself, was a serious feat. I was used to Firefox taking a second or two to appear on my desktop (while Chrome simply "popped open"). Such was the first major step forward.
And then I linked the browser to my Firefox Account, so that bookmarks and such would sync. Next I created a Master Password (for security purposes) and began the process of kicking the tires.
First the bad.
There is really only one caveat to using Firefox 57—many of those legacy add-ons won't function. From my perspective, that's not a deal breaker. The scant few add-ons I use would be an acceptable loss. However, it turns out one of those add-ons (Buffer) did work with the new iteration, and I managed to find an alternative that would auto mute all new tabs (Auto Mute).
Some users might not find such luck with their add-ons. The good news is those legacy apps will most likely get reworked such that they'll function with the new take on Firefox. Give it time.
The good (nay, the great)
This is where I am happy to say that the open source browser has finally managed to surpass Chrome in real-world speed. This isn't about benchmarks or data—it's about perception and actual usage. I could certainly quote the Mozilla developers (from the official Quantum announcement):
"We made many, many performance improvements in the browser's core and shipped a new CSS engine, Stylo, that takes better advantage of today's hardware with multiple cores that are optimized for low power consumption. We've also improved Firefox so that the tab you're on gets prioritized over all others, making better use of your valuable system resources. We've done all this work on top of the multi-process foundation that we launched this past June. And we're not done yet."
What people want to really know, is how it compares to Chrome (as Chrome has become the litmus test for browsers). In real world usage, Firefox is slightly faster. Considering how far Firefox had to go to even catch up to Chrome, this is seriously impressive. Just equalling Chrome in speed would have been a feat. Besting Google's browser means a lot of users might well return to the open source browser.
As well they should. Gone is the bloat. Gone is the dogged slowness.
Using a combination of all the things under the hood and the new Photon interface, Quantum is blazing fast. Pages render at a speed previously only afforded to Chrome. One thing I've noticed in particular is that pages aren't hamstrung as they wait on the inevitable connection to an advertising service. Instead, while that connection is made, you can go ahead and browse. With Chrome (at least on the Linux platform), many times those pages are blocked from being used (until the ad servers make the connection and serve up their data). Bravo to the developers for making this possible.
How this might affect open source
Almost without fail, one of the first things I've done, upon installing Linux, is install Chrome. For years, Firefox just didn't cut it. This was especially so when the Linux installation was intended for a client or friend. Very few users wanted their browsing to be weighed down with the anchor that was Firefox.
I will no longer feel that need to install Chrome on Linux. Why? Because Firefox has finally managed to not only catch up, but surpass Chrome. The open source browser is, once again, seated on the ol' browser wars throne and it feels good. The improvements to Firefox will go a very long way to aid the Linux desktop cause. How? Out of the box, Linux will not need to depend upon third-party sources to succeed. At least not with one of the single most important tool to users of every ilk—the browser. It all just works, and works like a champ.
Bravo to Mozilla
The developers at Mozilla have accomplished something I wasn't quite sure they could pull off. Firefox Quantum has not only caught up to the competition. It has retaken the best in show title from Chrome. Everyone that has contributed to bringing Firefox back to the fore deserves a mighty round of applause. Bravo to you, Mozilla ... your tireless work has paid off.
- Mozilla launches Firefox Quantum, its fastest browser ever (TechRepublic)
- How to gain quick access to Firefox's forget feature (TechRepublic)
- How to force Firefox to forget your browser history (TechRepublic Video)
- How to use Firefox's Master Password feature (TechRepublic)
- Just how fast is Firefox Quantum? (ZDNet)
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.