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Open Source Cheat Sheets

Firefox Quantum: A cheat sheet for professionals

Arguably the world's fastest web browser, Firefox Quantum puts Mozilla back in the race for internet ascendency.

Firefox Quantum: The latest iteration of the open source browser impresses

For those who had written Firefox off... it's back. Firefox Quantum is the latest release of the open source browser, and it brings to the table impressive speed and stability. In fact, the latest release from the Mozilla Foundation has been heralded by me and other pundits as the new king of browsers.

This Firefox Quantum resource guide is a quick way to get up to speed on the browser. We'll update this article periodically when there is new information about Firefox Quantum.

SEE: Software usage policy (Tech Pro Research)

What is Firefox, and when was it first released?

Firefox is a free, open source web browser, and it was originally released September 23, 2002. The web browser began as an experimental branch of the Mozilla project, which is a free software community that rose from Netscape in 1998, seeking to use, spread, and support Mozilla products: Firefox, Thunderbird, Bugzilla, and the Gecko layout engine.

Created by the Mozilla Foundation under the codename Phoenix, Firefox was originally developed to combat Mozilla Suite's bloat and feature creep. The initial releases of Firefox were praised for speed, security, and the add-on feature. Within the first nine months of Firefox's release, it had 60 million downloads, temporarily making it the world's most popular browser.

The original codename Phoenix was dropped due to trademark issues with Phoenix Technologies. The name was temporarily changed to Firebird, but was scrapped due to pressure from the Firebird database software project. On November 9, 2004, Mozilla released version 1.0 of the browser and rechristened it Firefox (which is said to be derived from a nickname of the red panda).

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

What is Firefox Quantum?

For a number of years, Firefox experienced a significant downward spiral in popularity, primarily due to the browser losing its edge in speed, being buggy and prone to crashing, and gaining serious bloat.

In 2016, Mozilla announced a new project called Quantum with the goal of drastically improving Gecko and other components, boosting Firefox's performance, modernizing the underlying technology, and transitioning to a multi-process model. Firefox was dangerously close to obscurity and needed to make serious changes or risk falling to the juggernaut Google.

On November 14, 2017, Mozilla released Firefox Quantum, version 57 of the open source web browser. This latest iteration (the largest update to Firefox since version 1.0) gave new life to the browser by featuring incredible speed, stability, and security. The increase in speed is made possible by way of the new Photon UI, the Stylo CSS engine, and the multi-process foundation.

Additional resources

How does Firefox Quantum's performance compare to other popular browsers in benchmark tests?

Many tech experts consider Firefox Quantum to be the fastest browser on the market. According to nearly every benchmark test I've read, Firefox Quantum bests Google Chrome in all the right places.

  • WebXPRT 2015 HTML5 and JavaScript performance: Firefox Quantum scores 491, Google Chrome scores 460 (higher is better)
  • BrowserBench JetStream 1.1 JavaScript performance: Firefox Quantum scores 183.1, Google Chrome scores 178.4 (higher is better)
  • Start time (according to LaptopMag using PassMark AppTimer): On average, Firefox Quantum started in 0.287 seconds, Google Chrome started 0.302 seconds
  • According to TechRepublic sister site ZDNet, Firefox Quantum is neck and neck with Google Chrome 62 with regards to speed.

Mozilla cites tests conducted by Disconnect Inc. that claim Firefox Quantum in Private Mode with Tracking Protection enabled has an average page loading time of 3.2 seconds. Without Private Mode and Tracking Protection enabled, the average page load time for Firefox Quantum is 7.3 seconds. That same average page load time for Google Chrome is 7.7 seconds.

Mozilla also claims Firefox Quantum consumes 30% less RAM than Google Chrome. Mozilla developer Eric Rahm used the atsy project tool to load 30 pages and measure the memory usage of Firefox Quantum, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Apple Safari. In nearly every test, Firefox Quantum came out on top--the only exception was Google Chrome on macOS.

For my testing in real-world usage, Firefox Quantum has the slight edge over Google Chrome on all desktop platforms. The only negative I've found is that Firefox Quantum drains battery life faster than Apple Safari on a MacBook Pro 2017 (which is a known bug in Firefox 57 and 58).

Additional resources

How secure is Firefox Quantum, and is my antivirus software compatible with Firefox Quantum?

Prior to Firefox Quantum, Firefox Extensions could directly modify Firefox code, which made it possible for hackers to inject malicious code into the browser; now that Firefox Quantum only works with extensions using the WebExtension API, this is no longer possible. To the dismay of many users and developers, Firefox Quantum rendered the existing add-ons incompatible.

Firefox Quantum's security sandbox was also strengthened, making it harder for attackers to escalate a security hole and use it against the rest of the system. The content process that renders web pages and executes JavaScript is now blocked from reading large parts of the local filesystem; the only exceptions are some libraries, configuration information, themes, and fonts. In addition, it is no longer possible for Firefox to read private information in the user's home directory or the user's Firefox Quantum profile--even if Firefox is compromised.

Now that Firefox has heightened security and drastically improved speed, the open source browser is a great addition or substitution on enterprise desktops and laptops. And with extensions like LastPass and the NoScript security suite, enterprise users can make Firefox Quantum even more secure.

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (free PDF) (ZDNet/TechRepublic special report)

Firefox Quantum allows users to enable a master password; then, any user that opens Firefox will have to enter the master password before the browser can access any saved password. This is a boon for any business user who wants to save passwords but doesn't want to risk that the passwords will be used by anyone else. The master password can be disabled--to do so requires entering that password. Be sure the master password is strong, and that you lock it in a password vault.

There is reason to worry that your current antivirus software won't be compatible with Firefox Quantum. If your antivirus software works with Firefox by way of an extension, chances are that extension will be listed as legacy and will not work with Firefox Quantum--it will be up to the makers of antivirus tools to update their software to function with the new WebExtensions API.

Additional resources

Is there a Firefox Quantum Portable app?

You can enjoy Firefox Quantum on Android. On the iOS front, Mozilla released version 10 of its browser, which boasts the same performance advantages of the desktop and Android apps.

If want to carry Firefox Quantum with you from desktop to desktop, you can install Quantum on a USB flash drive, thanks to the Firefox Quantum Portable App.

SEE: Portable Storage Policy (Tech Pro Research)

How do I install and uninstall Firefox Quantum?

The best way to install Firefox Quantum depends on your platform.

  • Desktop/laptop: Download the official installer for your platform from the official download page and install by double-clicking the installer (for some Linux systems, this might require installing third-party software, such as gdebi).
  • Android: Open the Google Play Store on your device, search for Firefox, and install the app by Mozilla.
  • iOS: Open the App Store, search for Firefox, and install version 10 of the app.

The instructions to fully uninstall Firefox will depend upon your platform.

  • On a Ubuntu-based Linux distribution, issue the command sudo apt-get purge firefox and manually remove the ~/.mozilla directory.
  • For Windows 10, uninstall Firefox via the Apps & Features tool. This method does not remove user data--to do so, click the Windows Start button, type %APPDATA%\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\ and click OK. You can delete the Firefox profiles from there.
  • For macOS, open the Applications folder, and drag the Firefox Quantum icon to the Trash. Profiles can be deleted from within the finder and are found in ~/Library/Mozilla.
  • For Android and iOS, uninstall Firefox the same way you would any app from your mobile device.

SEE: IT pro's guide to working smarter with Linux (Tech Pro Research)

How do I use bookmarks and login sync in Firefox Quantum?

A very nice feature of Firefox Quantum is a Sync tool, which allows you to sign into Firefox Sync from within the browser and sync the following settings:

  • Open Tabs
  • Bookmarks
  • Logins
  • History
  • Add-ons
  • Preferences
  • Addresses
  • Credit cards

From within Preferences | Firefox Account you can connect or disconnect from your Firefox Quantum Account. Once connected, you enable or disable each option. This makes it incredibly easy to share your data with each instance of Firefox you have installed on all of your devices--as long as they are signed into your Firefox Account.

Firefox Quantum includes the ability to send tabs to any of your devices signed into your Firefox Account; so, you could be viewing a tab on your desktop machine in your office and then, when you need to leave, send that tab to Firefox on your mobile device. Anyone that's constantly in and out of the office will appreciate this feature.

Additional resources

Why should I try Firefox Quantum?

The difference between Firefox Quantum and previous releases of Firefox is almost shocking. With a noticeable increase in speed, a significantly improved UI, and much-needed stability, Firefox Quantum could easily become your default web browser. Give Firefox Quantum a try--I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Also see

Image: Mozilla
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