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Firefox 59 speed trick pits your PC against your network

Mozilla's browser sets up mini competitions to find the fastest way to display websites. Also new: testing a business-friendly Firefox.

Mozilla's Firefox Quantum mascot.

Mozilla's Firefox Quantum mascot.

Mozilla

With Firefox 59, the race is on.

Previously, Mozilla's browser would fetch website data from a cache stored on a PC's hard drive or SSD. The new version of Firefox, released Tuesday, gets a bit of a speed boost by seeing if it can get that information faster from the network. The feature is part of project called Quantum to speed up Firefox -- a project whose name Mozilla embraced for the time being with the Firefox Quantum product name.

"Now we can do better resource-loading decisions," said Mark Mayo, Mozilla's newly promoted chief product officer. Individually, he said, each race to retrieve data from the cache or the network isn't a big deal, "but add them up and they can make a difference."

Races are not unknown in the computer business. For example, to ease the transition from today's IPv4 version of internet technology to the modernized IPv6, browsers and operating systems added a system called Happy Eyeballs that delivered network data from whichever network technology could deliver it fastest.

Firefox helped restore competition in the browser market, but it's waned in popularity from a decade ago. Mozilla is trying to rebuild Firefox's reputation, first with an overhaul to speed it up and later with new features. If it succeeds, Firefox will continue to help ensure the web is an open technology foundation, not a platform dominated by Google and its Chrome browser.

Among other features in Firefox 59:

  • A technique to speed up page display, off main thread painting, now is available for MacOS, not just Linux and Windows. That paves the way for another speed boost, retained display lists, set to debut in a few weeks with Firefox 60.
  • The Firefox screenshots feature now lets you add basic annotations to images before you share them.
  • A top requested feature for extensions, tab hiding, is back. Mozilla moved Firefox to the extensions system Google's Chrome uses, but hasn't added all the abilities of its old extensions technology. The feature is useful for extensions that manage groups of tabs.
  • When using private browsing mode, Firefox now strips some information -- HTTP referrers -- sent to websites that could make it possible to track you.
  • The first test version of Firefox Quantum for Enterprise, a tweaked version of the browser geared to be easier for businesses and other organizations to manage.

Mozilla also builds a slower-moving, annually updated version of its browser, Firefox Extended Support Release (ESR), but it's not as important these days. "The need for IT professionals to test each Firefox release has been greatly diminished," Mozilla said in a statement.

It now recommends that enterprises use the ordinary version of Firefox updated every six weeks "unless they need to test the browser against many custom-made web apps."

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