Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Mozilla Developer Previews

It seems in the world of Mozilla, alpha builds are so last season – ‘Developer Previews’ are the new hotness, with 2 releases over the past couple of months. These allow developers to see some of the new back-end technologies going into the Gecko rendering engine. You can grab the latest one here.
The interface in these test builds is the same as Firefox 3.6, but they use version 1.9.3 of the Gecko engine. This brings a variety of new features, as well performance boosts and greater security.
The biggest change is the introduction of ‘Out of Process Plugins’ – plugins like Flash and Quicktime now run in a separate process, rather than the main firefox.exe process. This greatly improves stability, as if the plugin encounters a critical error, it will only crash its host process and not the whole of Firefox. While it’s possible that each extra process will require more memory, using more than one process for displaying content should lead to better performance on systems with more than one processor core, which includes most desktops sold over the past couple of years. Right now this feature is limited to Windows and Linux but it should be on Mac OS X by the time it’s in a final build of Firefox.
There are also changes to JavaScript trace handling, history lookups and layout display which should boost performance. Mac builds now render text using Apple’s Core Text API; consequently these test builds now require Leopard (10.5) or later.
More changes are due in later builds – JaegerMonkey is a project to speed up JavaScript handling where tracing cannot be used, and future builds will support Direct2D which will allow Firefox to make use of hardware acceleration on computers with a DirectX 10-compatible graphics card and Windows 7 (or Vista with Windows Platform Update). This is good news as Firefox has fallen behind other browsers in the performance stakes of late and is likely to lose some users as a result.

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