Firefox 15 Goes on a Memory Diet
Better management of memory and updates highlight the latest release of the Mozilla Foundation's Web browser, Firefox 15.
Firefox's development team has steadily improved the browser's memory management over recent months, but with this release of the program, it's targeting a major contributor to the software's piggish memory ways: add-on applications.
The most common cause of leaks from add-ons is when they accidentally hold on to extra copies of a website in memory after a user has closed a tab, Firefox Product Manager Asa Dozier explained in Mozilla's Future of Firefox blog. The pages pile up and eat massive amounts of memory with no user benefit, he explained.
With Firefox 15, Mozilla has developed a mechanism to prevent those leaks from happening. The browser now detects that pattern, recaptures the leaked memory and frees it up. The result is that Firefox stays stable even if an add-on is making this mistake, Dozier wrote.
Also in this version of Firefox, the browser will automatically perform updates in the background. One of Mozilla's major competitors, Google, has been upgrading its browser, Chrome, that way for some time.
Background updates are designed to avoid the annoyance that program updates create for users, Firefox team developer Brian Bondy explained in his personal blog. Those annoyances were magnified when Mozilla adopted a rapid release schedule, releasing a new version of Firefox every six weeks.
Unlike foreground updates, background updates occur with very little disruption to the browser's operation while a user is using it.
While background updates may be convenient for individuals, they could pose security problems for organizations, according to Philip Lieberman, the founder and president of Lieberman Software.
Many enterprise systems will have to be reconfigured to accommodate background updating, which creates a danger that hackers could subvert the update system and gain backdoor access to the computers on the system, he wrote in Business Computing World.
Those fears are unfounded, according to Mozilla Partner Channel Manager Kev Needham. "The ESR version of Firefox is not currently silent," he told TechNewsWorld, "Additionally, Enterprise IT groups that need to control updates usually distribute a custom build of Firefox."
In recent times, Firefox has fallen to third place in the browser market, trailing Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) and Google's Chrome. Depending on who's doing the counting, Firefox's July share of the usage market was around 23 percent, compared to IE's share of 28 to 32 percent and Chrome's of 28 to 33 percent.
"Firefox has lost market share over the last year and a half to two years, mainly to Chrome," Vince Vizzaccaro, executive vice president of marketing for Net Applications, a Web analytics firm, told TechNewsWorld.
"What [Mozilla] is realizing is that feature-wise they're very solid, but they have to work on the speed issue," he continued.
End of Feature Wars?
In the past, a bump up in features translated into a bump up in usage share, but that isn't the case anymore, according to Vizzaccaro. "At this point, the Big Five browsers are fairly compatible feature-wise, so there isn't a whole lot of differentiation there," he observed.
In fact, the days when spiffy feature could grab market share are over, predicted Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "Right now, people are locked down on the browsers that they like," he told TechNewsWorld.
"It's not a feature war any more," he declared. "It's more about your relationship with a vendor and how easy it is for that vendor to get to you."
"With Google's near ubiquitous presence, it has far more ways to get to you than Firefox does," he added.
Speed Kills Competition
Performance is the key to browser success, according to Vizzaccaro. "It's coming down to speed," he continued, "and then just being able to render all the pages that are out there."
In the future, broad rendering of Web pages will require support of HTML5, an area where Mozilla may have a leg up on its rivals, Vizzaccaro noted.
Not only does HTML5 have the potential to attract new users to Firefox -- younger websters who want to play high-powered online games in their browser -- but also boost Firefox's performance by giving it more access to powerful local resources, he said, like graphic cards and multi-core processors.