How quickly the times can change. Four months ago, Mozilla made a surprising statement that it would roll out a new version of Firefox this year. Mozilla has been on a schedule to roll out a major version of its browser once a year since 2007, but Firefox appeared to be a risky quick shot. The Firefox man in charge, Mike Beltzner, pitched the new Firefox as a new browser that would be substantially faster than 3.5 and that would get a reduced GUI that would build on the perception that less menu can create the impression of a faster browser as well.
Overall, Mozilla planned to roll out seven betas of Firefox 4, but now it seems that we will get a total of nine, as major decisions are still to be made. For example, Mozilla currently considers dropping support for browsers that do not support Intel’s SSE2. It is somewhat unclear what that will mean, as Mozilla currently says that only original Athlon and 386-processors without SSE2 and older will be affected. However, SSE2 was not introduced by Intel until the Pentium 4 in late 2000. There is no final decision on this matter yet and we will have to wait and see how this works out. The RC1 release of Firefox 4 is planned for the second half of October.
So let’s have a look. I pitched recent browsers against each other to see where we stand. Here are the test results.
The performance increase of Firefox JS compared to Firefox 4 Beta 5 is substantial. The speed gain in Google V8 is more than 100% and almost 20% in Sunspider. Interestingly, Firefox JS now beats IE9 PP4, which will be released as IE9 Beta on September 15. I anticipate that Microsoft has fine-tuned IE9 again and that the browser will come in much closer to 400 ms in its first Beta. For now, however, Mozilla has caught up and it appears that it has every opportunity to reach 400 ms in this particular benchmark as well.
Safari and Opera could be in reach of Firefox as well, but Chrome may be too far away. Subjectively Firefox 4 JS feels more nimble that Beta 5 and seems to be much more responsive. Labeled as a Minefield browser, it is a developer version that is less stable than the Betas and is most certainly missing key features. For example, the hardware acceleration implementation is apparently different from the version in Beta 5. In Microsoft’s Psychedelic Wheel test, the Beta 5 scores 1769 revolutions, while the JS browser came in at 1075. IE9 PP4, by the way, scored 1794 revolutions and the latest Chrome 7 nightly build from this morning only 12.
Mozilla’s Rob Sayre has posted Firefox JS benchmarks as well. The charts show how different the results can be on different systems. Running on his Lenovo Thinkpad X20, Firefox JS is slightly behind IE9 PP3 and Opera 10.61 is listed as the fastest browser.