Software

​Newest Firefox browser bashes crashes

Most folks using the browser on Windows will see 10 percent fewer crashes as Mozilla's Quantum project to revamp Firefox shows results.

Nobody likes it when a web browser bombs instead of opening up a website.

So if you're a Firefox user, you should be happy with Tuesday's release of Firefox 53, which cuts down browser crashes by 10 percent for most people on Windows computers. The improvement comes through the first big debut of a part of Project Quantum, an effort launched in 2016 to beef up and speed up Firefox.

Cutting crashes and boosting performance is crucial to Firefox's future. A decade ago, the browser triumphed in a Mozilla effort to reignite browser innovation, but it's faded with the widespread shift to Google's Chrome. Firefox must keep pace if Mozilla is to keep that competitive pressure alive in the market, especially with rivals like Opera and Brave building their browsers on Google's Chrome foundations.

To improve stability, Firefox 53 on Windows machines isolates software called a compositor that's in charge of painting elements of a website onto your screen. That isolation into a separate computing process cuts down on trouble spots that can occur when Firefox employs computers' graphics chips, Mozilla said.

About 70 percent of Windows users will get the benefit -- those using updated versions of Windows 7, 8 and 10 on machines with Intel, Nvdia and AMD graphics hardware.

On Macs running Apple's MacOS software, compositing is stable, so the separate process isn't required.

New built-in compact themes

Another change lets people give Firefox 53 a new look. Two new built-in themes drop the swoopy tabs introduced in 2013 with the Australis project in favor of more compact rectangles that don't take up as much room and that look more like what you see in Microsoft's Edge browser or Apple's Safari. The compact light and nighttime-friendly compact dark themes can be selected in the "appearance" section of Firefox's about:addons setup, but Firefox sticks with the traditional look by default.

​Firefox introduces a new compact dark theme, at top, that does away with the swoopy tab shapes on the years-old "Australis" interface, below. A compact light theme also is an option, though by default Mozilla won't change the browser's look.

Firefox introduces a new compact dark theme, at top, that does away with the swoopy tab shapes on the years-old "Australis" interface, below. A compact light theme also is an option, though by default Mozilla won't change the browser's look.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

The themes might not seem like that big a deal but, changing a browser interface can be disorienting for people. But making room for a bit more browser content is important, too.

Under the covers, the change is important, too. Firefox fans have built thousands of themes to customize the browser's look, but Mozilla is ripping out the older technology that enables many of those themes to improve Firefox's performance, security and reliability. The new compact light and compact dark themes use a new theme interface that programmers and designers can employ to make themes that'll work in the future.

Authorizing access, dumping XP and Vista

The new Firefox also revamps how you can grant and revoke permission for websites to tap into sensitive computer abilities like the ability to know your location or use your webcam.

A multitude of less obvious changes are also built into the browser, which Mozilla updates about every six weeks. Many of them are tweaks that give web programmers new abilities -- things you might not care about, but that are core to Mozilla's effort to advance the web itself.

One final note: Firefox 53 drops support for Windows XP and Windows Vista. If you're among the small fraction of people still using these elderly operating systems, which Microsoft no longer supports with bug fixes or security updates, you'll have to use the slower-moving Firefox Extended Support Release (ESR) version.

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