Mozilla just delivered a re-engineered Firefox, branded “Quantum,” that it claims is twice as fast as just a few months earlier, and unveiled a re-drawn UI (user interface) with minimalist leanings.
The browser maker also dumped Yahoo as Firefox’s default search engine in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere, to return to Google, its partner – and primary financier – before a falling out three years ago.
The new browser’s official designation is Firefox 57, just another in an every-six-week series of upgrades. Until now, Mozilla has always numbered, never named, its browser releases.
Firefox Quantum boasts a revamped rendering engine with a new CSS (cascading style sheets) layout engine. Along with other components, the engine was written in Rust, a programming language that originated in Mozilla’s research group. The result: a significant speed increase.
“Firefox Quantum is over twice as fast as Firefox from 6 months ago, built on a completely overhauled core engine with brand new technology stolen from our advanced research group,” said Mayo, who credited the rendering engine’s use of multiple processor cores for the boost.
Other changes ran down the page and onto the next in Firefox’s release notes and included active tab prioritization and a switch-over from legacy add-ons to those built using the WebAssembly API (application programming interface).
Quantum also sports a new UI, the first major redesign since 2011’s Firefox 4. The UI and user experience (UX) changes, derived from an ongoing project tapped as “Photon,” emphasize speed improvements, both real and simply perceived.
The UI matches the streamlined austerity of rivals such as Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Edge. Firefox 57 combines the address and search bars – for new installations at least; existing users who miss the latter can restore it – reduces the clutter at the top of the window, and debuts a reworked new tab page.
Almost lost among the visual and technological changes was a simultaneous announcement that after three years, Firefox is switching back to Google as the default search engine in the U.S., Canada, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Other markets remain with their previous defaults, including Yandex (in Russia and Belarus) and Baidu (People’s Republic of China).
The Quantum project, the Photon UI overhaul and last year’s move to make Firefox a multiple-process browser have been crucial to Mozilla’s recovery strategy. Firefox once accounted for a quarter of the world’s user share but dipped as low as 8% in the summer of 2016. Since then, it’s scratched back to 13% as of October.
But will Firefox’s remodel be enough to cause its share too, say, overtake Microsoft’s declining Internet Explorer/Edge combination (with a 19.7% share last month), or erode Chrome’s dominance (59.8%)?