Firefox 89: Mozilla brought its open source browser back from the ashes

Mozilla's Firefox 89 is a return to form for the open source browser. Find out what about this latest iteration helped it to return as Jack Wallen's browser of choice.

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Image: Mozilla

I'm not going to lie: on Linux, I've been using the Opera Browser as my default for some time—even though the browser brings along with it a few frustrations. For the past few months, when working with a document in Google Docs, it would randomly devour system resources, thereby bringing the browser (and the desktop) to a screeching halt. Also, media displayed on some social media sites refused to play without a fix. 

Even with those headaches, I stuck with it. Why? One feature, and one feature alone—Workspaces. Opera does Workspaces to perfection, like no other browser. In fact, the Opera take on Workspaces is so far beyond what all other browsers offer, there's no telling what kind of hurdles I was willing to overcome to keep working with that proprietary browser.

That is, until Firefox 89.

That's right, Mozilla finally did it. They cleaned up the open source browser's act and gave it new life. What's ironic about this is I was convinced to switch back to Firefox as my default, not after installing Firefox on my System76 Thelio desktop (running Pop!_OS Linux), but after installing it on my M1 MacBook Pro

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I'd given up using any browser but Safari on macOS, because of how quickly all other browsers drained the battery of my previous MacBook. After installing Firefox 89 on the 2020 M1 MacBook Pro, I realized that things had changed. Not only was Firefox no longer a battery hog, but it was gorgeous (Figure A).

Figure A

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Firefox 89 running on an M1 MacBook Pro.

Sure, a pretty coat of paint will attract my attention, but it's the features that will keep my interest. However, go too far with the features and you'll lose me. That's where Firefox 89 strikes the perfect blend of just the right amount of everything. 

That interface is a perfect UX for modern users: sleek, minimal and lacks so much of what made previous iterations of Firefox a no-go for certain users. The new Firefox interface shuns everything that isn't necessary and creates an efficient and clean user experience. Even the Firefox menu has been re-organized and reprioritized, according to usage (Figure B). 

Figure B

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The new Firefox menu is clean and simple to navigate.

One of the biggest visual improvements the developers and designers have made is within the realm of tabs. Firefox tabs seem to float off the page, with just enough information to keep you aware of which tab is which and gives users necessary cues for interaction and control. Because of the new rounded tab design, it's much easier for users to grab and move tabs around (Figure C).

Figure C

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The rounded tab design helps tabs float off the page.

Performance

Beyond the look and feel of the Firefox browser, there's one very important aspect that many browser users have been concerned with over the past few years—performance. When it comes to performance, Firefox has struggled to keep up with the likes of Chrome, Opera, Brave, Vivaldi and even Edge.

One of the reasons why I migrated from the open source Firefox was because it had become sluggish to the point of being unusable in certain cases. It was, without a doubt, the biggest memory hog in all of the web browser landscape. 

Part of that was due to bloat. Firefox was bogged down with bloatware. The developers tossed feature after feature into the mix, few of which were even logical additions. It seemed Mozilla was hoping to differentiate itself from other browsers by turning Firefox into an ecosystem all its own.

It didn't work. 

In fact, Firefox had grown so far away from being just a browser that worked that it became a side-show and a cautionary tale of how not to evolve a piece of software.

That all changes with Firefox 89. The browser is back to being a high-performing web browser that doesn't get bogged down with bloat, renders pages as fast as any browser on the market and offers as clean an interface as you'll find. Speaking of performance: after using Firefox for a while on my desktop, I ran the top command to see Firefox shifting both firefox-bin (the Firefox executable) and Web Content (the pages open in Firefox) between 2.2% and 30.2% CPU usage. 

Of course, that usage depended on what tabs I had open. Even Google Docs—which caused Opera to eventually max out on CPU and bring the desktop to a stop—barely registered in top. On the contrary, ad-heavy sites did tend to punch the percentages into the 30s, but that's an easy fix. My biggest concern was obviously Google Docs. 

I cannot tell you how glad I am to see Firefox return to form. I'd all but given up hope that Mozilla could produce a browser worthy of modern usage, but they've proven me wrong in spectacular fashion, and I've migrated my default Linux browser back to Firefox. It's a good day.

The only feature I'll miss from Opera is Workspaces, and I'm certain there's a way to achieve a similar interface with Firefox, without developing yet another case of the bloats.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....