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Computers

Faster Firefox 67 blocks fingerprinting, crypto-naughtiness

Also new: Better AV1 for 4K video and WebRender for swifter website display. But fewer people use Mozilla's open-source web browser each month.

Firefox Quantum robot launch

Mozilla is trying to rebuild its browser reputation with Firefox Quantum.

Mozilla

A year and a half after introducing its first Quantum-branded version of Firefox, Mozilla is still working to speed up its web browser.

The new Firefox 67, released Tuesday, concentrates its attention on important parts of website code, speeding up Instagram, Amazon and Google by 40% to 80%, the nonprofit said. It also puts background tabs on hold when you have less than 400MB of free memory to try to avoid slowdowns.

Speed is crucial to life online. Statistically, you'll perform more searches, read more news and do more shopping when websites load faster. But for all Mozilla's effort, the number of people using Firefox monthly continues to dwindle -- down from about 300 million when Mozilla released the first Firefox Quantum in November 2017 to about 257 million today, according to Mozilla statistics. Firefox users spend more time using Firefox per day, though, up more than 20 minutes in that same time frame to about 4 hours and 50 minutes.

Mozilla's mission -- to keep the internet open and a place where you aren't in the thrall of tech giants -- may seem abstract. But Mozilla succeeded in breaking the lock Microsoft's Internet Explorer had on the web a decade ago, and now it's fighting the same battle again against Google's dominant Chrome.

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Among other features in Firefox 67:

  • Firefox now blocks cryptocurrency mining and fingerprinting software that's used to give websites and advertisers a way to track you even if you shut down more conventional means like cookies. Safari and Brave already try to block fingerprinting scripts that websites try to run. Fingerprinting uses scripts to test what your browser can do and how it's configured; with enough parameters your browser can be distinguished from others'. And cryptocurrency mining scripts sponge off your computing power and electricity bill so other people can create digital money.
  • Firefox includes a faster new AV1 video decoder called dav1d. Mozilla joined companies including Amazon, Google and Microsoft in 2015 to found an effort to create the royalty-free AV1 compression technology. It's part of a plan to sidestep patent fees for the top competitor, HEVC. AV1 helps make 4K video more practical and shrinks network usage for lower-resolution video, and it already accounts for 12 percent of streaming video in the Firefox beta, Mozilla said.
  • If your computer runs Windows 10 and uses an Nvidia graphics card, you'll get access to new technology called WebRender that has the potential to significantly speed up web site display on your screen. That's the kind of thing that can make websites feel much more responsive. Mozilla is starting with a limited population of Firefox users but will spread WebRender to other people over 2019.
  • If you've customized Firefox with an extension, the browser should restart more quickly.

Mozilla delayed Firefox 67's release because of a security certificate problem that broke the ability to customize Firefox with extensions.

Originally published May 21, 6 a.m. PT.
Update, 9:54 a.m.: Adds more details about the new browser version.