Pale Moon: The Fastest Browser You've Never Heard Of

Pale Moon, sister to the familiar Firefox browser, discards a lot of old baggage to run significantly faster.

I keep a close eye on the browser world, but I have to admit that I've never noticed Pale Moon, an offshoot of Mozilla's popular Firefox.

But now that I've tried the latest version, I'm happy to recommend it. Pale Moon is faster than Firefox, uses less memory and is compatible with many -- but far from all -- extensions and add-ons that are a big part of Firefox's personality. (Version 9.0.1 of Pale Moon was released Monday, you can download it and read more about it here.)

Unlike Firefox and other popular browsers, Pale Moon was designed with Windows and new generations of Intel processors in mind.  Indeed, it won't run on older PCs, or on computers running Linux or other operating systems. If your PC has an AMD processor you'll have to download a separate version. Pale Moon runs very well on Windows 7, but I could not get it to run on my backup Vista machine, although documentation on the browser's Web site says it is supposed to run on Windows versions as far back as XP. 

If you have a 64-bit version of Windows 7, there is a version of Pale Moon tailored for it, and that's the one I'm running. For comparison, I downloaded a 32-bit version as well, and noticed it looked identical, but was a tad slower. I suspect that someone running the 32-bit version of the browser on a 32-bit version of Windows would find it even slower than I did.

Although Pale Moon looks very similar to Firefox, and shares the same code base, it's a separate browser. Pale Moon is the product of a Dutch developer named M.C. Straver. Because Firefox is open source software, Straver was perfectly free to use the Firefox code and modify it. His idea was to drop compatibility with older hardware and operating systems to build a browser that is lighter on its feet.

Because it is a different browser, downloading Pale Moon does not change or overwrite your existing copy of Firefox; if you don't like Pale Moon, simply delete it, and there's no harm done. Firefox will still be there. If you do like it, follow the instructions on the download page and you'll be able to import all of your Firefox settings, bookmarks, preferences and so on, with just a few clicks.

For the sake of better performance, Straver left out some features, notably parental controls and accessibility tools that some people may miss. Pale Moon also drops support for Internet Explorer's ActiveX and ActiveX scripting technology, which offers a security benefit, but also means that some Web content won't display if you try to view it with Pale Moon. And of course, it's certain that some add-ons won't work, particularly on the 64-bit version.

As you may recall, the Mozilla organization has been rapidly pushing new releases of Firefox onto the Web, a rapid pace that has irritated quite a few users. Straver is one of those irritated users, but unlike you and me, he can actually do more about it than complain.

He says he won't race to keep up with every new iteration of Firefox, but will adopt important new features as they come out, while maintaining "a familiar set of controls and visual feedback similar to previous versions, including grouped navigation buttons of a decent size, a bookmarks toolbar that is enabled by default, and not in the least a functional status bar."

If you use Pale Moon, you may have to wait awhile to enjoy significant improvements made by Mozilla, but you'll be spared the annoyance of frequent upgrades. And best of all, you'll notice a significant boost in performance.

Let me know what you think after you've tried it out.

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