Firefox 7 is out. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already have it, because, historically, a large proportion of my readers use Firefox or, in the past, used other Mozilla-based browsers.
The last couple of Firefox versions have been yawners, and a frequent butt of jokes on Twitter. “It’s Tuesday. Time for a new major Firefox release.” This one looks better. Here’s my review, after a few days of use.
For one thing, under the conditions I normally run under, Firefox 7 uses about half as much memory as version 6 used. That’s pretty significant, because Firefox is a much bigger memory hog than any other application I run regularly. Granted, web pages are considerably more complex than they were even five short years ago, but still, as recently as 2005 I was editing professional-quality video on machines that had less memory than Firefox 6 wanted all for itself.
This week, when leaving a dozen or so tabs open overnight, Firefox 7 utilized 300-400 MB of memory. More importantly, when I watched the process, I could see it releasing memory when it was done with it. And when I closed tabs, memory usage would drop. Not always immediately, but eventually. Under earlier versions of Firefox, that was only something I did when I was desperate because I never found it did much good.
It’s faster, too. How much faster, I can’t tell you, but subjectively, it does feel quicker. Recent versions of Firefox have generally been incrementally faster than their predecessors. I experienced this firsthand a few weeks ago, when I fired up and used a machine that was still running Firefox 3.6-something. I really didn’t like using it. When each new version of Firefox is 10, maybe 15 percent faster than the previous one, you notice it sometimes, but barely. But you really do notice the cumulative effect of two or three versions, each being 10-15 percent faster. Version 3.6 only came out 22 months ago, but in comparison, it doesn’t feel like a modern web browser, even on recent hardware. Plan a trip in Google Maps with more than half a dozen stops, and you feel a difference. You can even feel a difference visiting a site like Twitter. Scrolling through a couple of screens of tweets is much slower and jerkier in 3.6 than in recent versions.
Firefox is losing market share, or at least not gaining the way it has. It has an image problem. I think some people were frustrated that major new releases took a year or two to appear, but now they seem to have gone to another extreme, and that’s made the image problem worse.
But in the end, it’s about the quality of the software. Firefox 5 and 6 weren’t bad efforts, but they really were .1-type releases. They didn’t feel like major new releases.
Whether Firefox 7 feels like a major new release will depend on how long you’ve been around. If you’re expecting something like the jump from Windows Vista to Windows 7, then Firefox 7 will feel like a big deal. If you remember the jump from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95, or from Windows 98 to Windows 2000, then Firefox 7 doesn’t feel like as big of a deal.
But in Firefox’s defense, that’s a sign of mature software. At some point, software becomes mature enough that huge steps happen infrequently, and the main selling points of new versions become improved stability, and, occasionally, improved performance.
If you haven’t downloaded and applied the update to Firefox 7, I recommend it.