Firefox Quantum arrives with faster browser engine, major visual overhaul, and Google as default search engine


Mozilla today launched Firefox 57, branded Firefox Quantum , for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. The new version, which Mozilla calls “by far the biggest update since Firefox 1.0 in 2004,” brings massive performance improvements and a visual redesign.

The Quantum name signals Firefox 57 is a huge release that incorporates the company’s next-generation browser engine (Project Quantum ). The goal is to make Firefox the fastest and smoothest browser for PCs and mobile devices — the company has previously promised that users can expect “some big jumps in capability and performance” through the end of the year. Indeed, three of the four past releases (Firefox 53 , Firefox 54 , and Firefox 55 ) included Quantum improvements. But those were just the tip of the iceberg.

Firefox 57 for the desktop is available for download now on Firefox.com , and all existing users should be able to upgrade to it automatically. The Android version is trickling out slowly on Google Play and the iOS version (which is usually updated separately from the other platforms) should eventually arrive on Apple’s App Store .

Mozilla doesn’t break out the exact numbers for Firefox, though the company does say “half a billion people around the world” use the browser. In other words, it’s a major platform that web developers target — even in a world increasingly dominated by mobile apps.

Speed

Mozilla says that Firefox Quantum will feel speedier when you browse your favorite websites, thanks to faster page loading, smoother scrolling, and a more responsive user interface. The company noted three ways Firefox now bests the competition:

  • Firefox Quantum is 2X as fast as Firefox was 6 months ago, according to the (still-in-development) Speedometer 2.0 benchmark
  • Firefox Quantum is oftentimes perceivably faster than Chrome in a side-by-side comparison
  • Firefox Quantum often uses less memory than Chrome (~30 percent less using a Windows 10 PC).

While Firefox has historically run mostly on just one CPU core, Firefox Quantum finally takes advantage of multiple CPU cores on desktop and mobile. Firefox Quantum features a faster CSS engine written in Rust that runs quickly, in parallel across multiple CPU cores, instead of running in one slower sequence on a single core. “No other browser can do this,” Mozilla claims.

Firefox Quantum prioritizes the tab you’re actively using — it downloads and runs before other tabs you have open in the background – and includes a new CSS engine called Stylo, which takes better advantage of multiple CPU cores that are optimized for low power consumption. Mozilla has also fixed hundreds of issues related to Firefox slowness in the past several months, adding to the feeling of a faster browser.

You can check out Mozilla’s tests here and technical background here .

New Features

Performance aside, Firefox Quantum includes a visual refresh, called Photon, that “feels fast, fluid, and at home with modern operating systems.” Photon takes advantage of today’s High DPI displays and other hardware across Windows 10, macOS High Sierra, Android Oreo, and iOS 11.

“We call this initiative Photon, and its goal is to modernize and unify anything that we call Firefox while taking advantage of the speedy new engine,” the team explained. “You guessed it: the Photon UI itself is incredibly fast and smooth. To create Photon, our user research team studied how people browsed the web. We looked at real world hardware to make Firefox look great on any display, and we made sure that Firefox looks and works like Firefox regardless of the device you’re using. Our designers created a system that scales to more than just current hardware but lets us expand in the future.”

Photon on a Windows PC with a touch display, for example, adjusts the menu size based on whether you click with a mouse or touch with a finger. You can expect square tabs, a dark color scheme, smooth animations, and a restructuring of menus. There’s also a Library feature that provides quick access to bookmarks, Pocket, history, downloads, synced tabs, and screenshots.

Speaking of Pocket, Firefox Quantum integrates the read-it-later app, which Mozilla acquired in February , even further. When you open a new tab, you’ll see currently trending web pages recommended by Pocket users in addition to your top sites. Firefox Quantum lets you save to Pocket right from the address bar. If you have the Pocket app for Android or iOS, you’ll also get offline access to your saved stories.

In Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the U.S., Firefox will use Google as the default search provider. Back in November 2014, Mozilla swapped the default form Google to Yahoo for these countries. Firefox default search providers in other regions are Yandex in Russia, Turkey, Belarus, and Kazakhstan; Baidu in China; and Google in the rest of the world. Firefox still let’s you swap between search providers — Mozilla says Firefox offers more than 60 search providers pre-installed across more than 90 languages, which is more than any other browser.

If you’re a web developer, more details are available for you here: Firefox Quantum 57 for developers . Mozilla releases new Firefox versions every six to eight weeks, and Firefox 58 is currently slated for late January.

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