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Firefox Quantum Offers Huge Leap in Speed, Usability

Mozilla remains dedicated to creating an open-source web browser that not only benefits from a global community of volunteer coders, but leads in speed, standards support, usability, and memory savings.

Today, the nonprofit launches a major update to its web browser called Firefox Quantum, aka version 57. It's faster, cleaner looking, better with memory usage, and integrates the Pocket webpage-saving service.

"We have put a ton of hard engineering work into rebuilding the core web rendering engine," Mozilla CMO Jascha Kaykas-Wolff tells PCMag. "This is the guts that make the product fast."

The Firefox development team used the Rust programming language to build this new rendering engine, which incorporates code from the Servo project and can take advantage of parallel processing using today's multicore CPUs. The new code is also 64-bit, Kaykas-Wolff says.

A Faster Browser

To demonstrate the speedup, we ran the JetStream and Speedometer benchmarks (both available via browserbench.org) on a Surface Book with a Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM.

On the Speedometer benchmark, the pre-Quantum Firefox release scored 45, compared with 70 for Firefox Quantum. JetStream is one of the most thorough JavaScript benchmarks around, incorporating tests from Google's Octane and the WebKit Sunspider benchmark. Firefox Quantum scored 151 on JetStream compared with 144 for Google Chrome.

Firefox Quantum Speedometer

Keep in mind that those are synthetic benchmarks that only test JavaScript and DOM manipulation. Mozilla concentrated on actual page load speed, and posted video demos of comparative page loading speed with Chrome.

RAM usage also goes on a diet with Firefox Quantum: Kaykas-Wolff says the browser uses 30 percent less memory than Chrome. Indeed, even the previous versions of Firefox tested by PCMag showed significantly lower memory usage than competing browsers.

The new Firefox is also a 64-bit application when installed on a 64-bit version of Windows, a performance and security boon. Chrome, by contrast, still defaults to 32-bit, though a 64-bit version is available on demand. And Microsoft Edge only installs as 64-bit on 64-bit machines.

The new release means it's the moment of truth for legacy add-ons, aka extensions. Quantum will no longer tolerate legacy extensions, but only those that use the new extension system. The new system will bring some real benefits, such as improved security and stability. Best of all: You'll no longer need to wait for all your extensions to be checked and updated every time Firefox updates.

Interface Redesign

The new design features, part of what Mozilla calls the Photon Design System, include lots of tweaks to the user experience. The new design sports Edge-like, squared-off tabs, and an interface tour familiarizes new users with the browser. A new Library button give you access to your history, bookmarks, Pocket list, downloads, screenshots and synced tabs. That's right, screenshots—Firefox Quantum includes built-in screenshot capability. A new start page not only shows tiles linking to your top sites, but also Pocket-recommended sites and highlights from sites you've frequented.

Firefox Quantum Tour

Pocket

Last February, Mozilla acquired Read It Later, maker of the Pocket website-saving service. But the organization thinks of Pocket as more than just a site saver. The point is "discovery and accessibility of high quality web content," according to the acquisition announcement. Mozilla now uses Pocket to suggest sites of interest on the browser's new-tab page. Of course, there's still a button, now in the address bar, that lets you save sites you want to read later, regardless of what devices you're on, since it's saved in the cloud.

Speedboat

To celebrate the launch of Firefox Quantum, Mozilla is offering ferry service for three days in New York City. The ferry runs between Greenpoint, Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, and, as Kaykas-Wolff points out, it's 10 minutes faster than comparable ferries—just like Firefox is faster.

To try it for yourself, download Firefox Quantum from Firefox.com. For more background, watch the video below. And be sure to look for an updated review of Firefox on PCMag in the coming days.

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The new era in mobile

Joe Apprendi Contributor Joe Apprendi is a general partner at Revel Partners. More posts by this contributor Big data’s humble beginnings A future dominated by autonomous vehicles (AVs) is, for many experts, a foregone conclusion. Declarations that the automobile will become the next living room are almost as common — but, they are imprecise. In our inevitable driverless future, the more apt comparison is to the mobile device. As with smartphones, operating systems will go a long way toward determining what autonomous vehicles are and what they could be. For mobile app companies trying to seize on the coming AV opportunity, their future depends on how the OS landscape shapes up. By most measures, the mobile app economy is still growing, yet the time people spend using their apps is actually starting to dip. A recent study reported that overall app session activity grew only 6 percent in 2017, down from the 11 percent growth it reported in 2016. This trend suggests users are reaching a saturation point in terms of how much time they can devote to apps. The AV industry could reverse that. But just how mobile apps will penetrate this market and who will hold the keys in this new era of mobility is still very much in doubt. When it comes to a driverless future, multiple factors are now converging. Over the last few years, while app usage showed signs of stagnation, the push for driverless vehicles has only intensified. More cities are live-testing driverless software than ever, and investments in autonomous vehicle technology and software by tech giants like Google and Uber (measured in the billions) are starting to mature. And, after some reluctance, automakers have now embraced this idea of a driverless future. Expectations from all sides point to a “passenger economy” of mobility-as-a-service, which, by some estimates, may be worth as much as $7 trillion by 2050. For mobile app companies this suggests several interesting questions: Will smart cars, like smartphones before them, be forced to go “exclusive” with a single OS of record (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon/AGL), or will they be able to offer multiple OS/platforms of record based on app maturity or functionality? Or, will automakers simply step in to create their own closed loop operating systems, fragmenting the market completely? Automakers and tech companies clearly recognize the importance of “connected mobility.” Complicating the picture even further is the potential significance of an OS’s ability to support multiple Digital Assistants of Record (independent of the OS), as we see with Google Assistant now working on iOS. Obviously, voice NLP/U will be even more critical for smart car applications as compared to smart speakers and phones. Even in those established arenas the battle for OS dominance is only just beginning. Opening a new front in driverless vehicles could have a fascinating impact. Either way, the implications for mobile app companies are significant. Looking at the driverless landscape today there are several indications as to which direction the OSes in AVs will ultimately go. For example, after some initial inroads developing their own fleet of autonomous vehicles, Google has now focused almost all its efforts on autonomous driving software while striking numerous partnership deals with traditional automakers. Some automakers, however, are moving forward developing their own OSes. Volkswagen, for instance, announced that vw.OS will be introduced in VW brand electric cars from 2020 onward, with an eye toward autonomous driving functions. (VW also plans to launch a fleet of autonomous cars in 2019 to rival Uber.) Tesla, a leader in AV, is building its own unified hardware-software stack. Companies like Udacity, however, are building an “open-source” self-driving car tech. Mobileye and Baidu have a partnership in place to provide software for automobile manufacturers. Clearly, most smartphone apps would benefit from native integration, but there are several categories beyond music, voice and navigation that require significant hardware investment to natively integrate. Will automakers be interested in the Tesla model? If not, how will smart cars and apps (independent of OS/voice assistant) partner up? Given the hardware requirements necessary to enable native app functionality and optimal user experience, how will this force smart car manufacturers to work more seamlessly with platforms like AGL to ensure competitive advantage and differentiation? And, will this commoditize the OS dominance we see in smartphones today? It’s clearly still early days and — at least in the near term — multiple OS solutions will likely be employed until preferred solutions rise to the top. Regardless, automakers and tech companies clearly recognize the importance of “connected mobility.” Connectivity and vehicular mobility will very likely replace traditional auto values like speed, comfort and power. The combination of Wi-Fi hotspot and autonomous vehicles (let alone consumer/business choice of on-demand vehicles) will propel instant conversion/personalization of smart car environments to passenger preferences. And, while questions remain around the how and the who in this new era in mobile, it’s not hard to see the why. Americans already spend an average of 293 hours per year inside a car, and the average commute time has jumped around 20 percent since 1980. In a recent survey (conducted by Ipsos/GenPop) researchers found that in a driverless future people would spend roughly a third of the time communicating with friends and family or for business and online shopping. By 2030, it’s estimated the autonomous cars “will free up a mind-blowing 1.9 trillion minutes for passengers.” Another analysis suggested that even with just 10 percent adoption, driverless cars could account for $250 billion in driver productivity alone. Productivity in this sense extends well beyond personal entertainment and commerce and into the realm of business productivity. Use of integrated display (screen and heads-up) and voice will enable business multi-tasking from video conferencing, search, messaging, scheduling, travel booking, e-commerce and navigation. First-mover advantage goes to the mobile app companies that first bundle into a single compelling package information density, content access and mobility. An app company that can claim 10 to 15 percent of this market will be a significant player. For now, investors are throwing lots of money at possible winners in the autonomous automotive race, who, in turn, are beginning to define the shape of the mobile app landscape in a driverless future. In fact, what we’re seeing now looks a lot like the early days of smartphones with companies like Tesla, for example, applying an Apple -esque strategy for smart car versus smartphone. Will these OS/app marketplaces be dominated by a Tesla — or Google (for that matter) — and command a 30 percent revenue share from apps, or will auto manufacturers with proprietary platforms capitalize on this opportunity? Questions like these — while at the same time wondering just who the winners and losers in AV will be — mean investment and entrepreneurship in the mobile app sector is an extremely lucrative but risky gamble.

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