Expect 250% Firefox speed blast after 3.5 RC release

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If last Friday's Release Candidate for Mozilla's Firefox 3.5 is truly indicative of the final release (last week's was not, unfortunately), then how much faster performance will Firefox users expect to see the moment they install it? When the organization first started seriously ramping up the development of its TraceMonkey JavaScript engine last year, we said that speed boost would have to be in the triple-digit range to keep up with competition, as well as to meet the high expectations Mozilla set.

Today, Betanews tests have a preliminary answer, and it's exactly what developers have been looking for: A speed score of 253% that of the Windows 7 RC -- better than two and a half times the speed of version 3.0.10 -- and 222% that of Windows Vista SP2, in tests conducted with the "Beta 99" release candidate build posted last Friday, versus the current stable Firefox release. The general public may get a chance to see that performance improvement later this week, assuming this time Mozilla releases Firefox 3.5 RC to the general public as planned.

This morning's tests give Beta 99 a 9.23 Betanews performance index score in Win7 RC, and 7.44 in Vista SP2, once again demonstrating the much-needed agility in the underlying Win7 platform compared to its predecessor. (Our index compares speeds to a relative 1.00 for Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 in Vista SP2.) In speed tests alone, Beta 99 on Win7 was 32% faster than Beta 99 on Vista.


A word about our Windows Web browser test suite


Where is Firefox finding the speed? It's not in the rendering department, which we've noticed has actually ticked downward, perhaps in pursuit of better standards compliance (the RC still scores 93% on the Acid3 test). Our tests reveal that the latest 3.5 handles array objects twice as fast as the stable, and recovers from errors 10 times as fast. The RC accesses data in memory three times as fast, handles math operations five times as fast, processes textual strings over three times as fast, and processes bitwise logic 753% faster than version 3.0.10.

Still, it will not be the fastest Windows Web browser available. Our performance index score for the latest stable release of Google Chrome (2.0.177.1) in Win7 RC is 13.43, reflecting nearly 56% better speed over Beta 99. But the Firefox speed boost will put version 3.5 in a league with Chrome and Apple Safari 4 (still in testing) in the speed department; and with a fuller slate of add-ons and more developed outside support, there's good reason to believe it will continue to be the preferred alternative browser to Internet Explorer in the coming months.

Of course, the Back button will need to work. During what was supposed to have been Mozilla's final "crunch time" testing two weeks ago, testers found a handful of blockers that were bad enough to delay final release by at least a week. We saw one ourselves: In one of the previous daily builds for Firefox 3.5 last week, the Back button was inoperative in Windows 7 RC. Not in Vista, however; and the latest daily "Minefield" build of Firefox 3.6 didn't have that problem. We were relieved not to find it in last weekend's Beta 99 post.

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