Mozilla Firefox 18 Faster, Safer, with Retina Support

The browser speed wars are over, but switching to the newest version of your favorite browser, whether it's Firefox 18 or those for Chrome or Internet Explorer, makes plenty of sense.

Just because I’ve declared an end to the browser speed wars, that doesn’t mean I won’t keep you up to date on the newest versions. Today’s featured browser: Mozilla’s just-released Firefox 18, which runs a bit faster, renders screens better if you’re on a Mac, and is more secure in its mobile iterations.

The new version has a number of very geeky -- but important -- changes under the hood, while the interface is unchanged. One of those, a new JavaScript engine, called IonMonkey, makes Firefox 18 faster, but how much faster is unclear to me.

As you may know, there are many benchmarks that judge browser performance. Mozilla engineer Dave Anderson said in a blog post that according to one of those, Firefox 18 is 7 percent faster than its immediate predecessor (see graph below, courtesy of Mozilla). Google’s Chrome browser is generally considered somewhat faster than Firefox. I did a quick and dirty test using www.speedtest.net and found that Chome is a bit faster than Firefox 18, at least on my home network, but the gap isn’t much: 8.67 Mps vs. 8.61 Mps when downloading and almost no difference when uploading.

firefox18chart.jpg

The mobile version of Firefox 18, (available for Android, but not iOS), comes with Safe Browsing enabled. The feature is designed to provide phishing and malware protection for mobile users. The phishing and malware protection works by regularly updating a local list of known bad sites, provided by Google through its SafeBrowsing database. Whenever Firefox detects that you navigate to such a site, or that a page you visit is trying to pull data from it, Firefox will present you with a warning page and allow you to abort the operation.

Another important addition is, unfortunately, restricted to Mac users. Firefox now supports Apple's Retina display on Mac OS 10.7 or later, meaning it takes advantage of the improvements Apple has added to its latest monitors.  

Meanwhile, it appears that Chrome is strengthening its hold on the hearts of Web users. According to Internet metrics company StatCounter, Chrome had 36.42 percent of the global browser market in December 2012, up from 27.27 percent a year earlier. Firefox finished 2012 with 21.89 percent, down from 25.27 percent in December 2011, and Microsoft Internet Explorer also declined during the same period, dropping from 38.65 percent to 30.78 percent.

I’ve said often enough that all of the major browsers are plenty good enough for most of us. But I want to mention that upgrading to the newest version of your favorite browser isn’t a bad idea. As developers crank out new versions, they patch security flaws and add support for emerging technologies such as HTML5. There’s no reason not to take advantage of their hard work.

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