In an attempt to even the playing field with competitors, Mozilla Firefox stepped up its game Tuesday by releasing an update that will increase browser speeds and cut down on memory usage.
Firefox 54 has opened up its upper limit of processes from one to four, although users can customize it to be more by entering “about:config” in the address bar and adjusting the settings themselves.
This new version of Firefox feels faster and it scores higher on an online browser speed test than Chrome or Safari, even after opening 20 tabs, although it still gives the old loading sign on all of the pages. Firefox product vice president Nick Nguyen calls this upgrade “the largest change to Firefox code in our history,” according to his blog post detailing the changes.
Have you used Firefox and wondered why it was so sluggishly slow? In the tech equivalent of finding out that someone has been manually inputting thousands of accounting entries into Excel, it turns out Firefox has been relying on a single operating system process to load multiple 2.5-megabyte-sized tabs at once.
In comparison, Google Chrome runs a process for every tab and then some. Right now, I’ve got 22 tabs open while typing this in Chrome yet 330 processes running on 1640 threads. In contrast to Chrome, the upgrade from single process to four processes may feel quite minimal. So why only four?
Even this slight increase in the number of processes comes with a trade-off for memory space, according to Mozilla software developers, reiterating Firefox’s reluctance to sacrifice RAM. Four is the optimal number the developers arrived at for computers with 8GB of RAM.
In order to adapt Firefox to run in multiple processes, Mozilla developers had to break Firefox Add-Ons that depend on a single-process architecture, Ryan Pollock, Firefox’s senior marketing manager, writes on Medium. Mozilla’s Project Quantum, created to optimize the browser engine running within a content process, remains in the works.
This latest software update seems to be building on aspirations that Firefox senior VP Mark Mayo expressed in January in an interview with The Verge. Mayo made it clear that Mozilla didn’t want the web to turn into a monopoly controlled by a few huge companies.
The improvements to Firefox come after a trying time for the company. In February, the company laid off about 50 employees after Firefox OS tanked, and Firefox employees have acknowledged how far the browser has fallen from its brighter days. But if Firefox can use less memory than Chrome and run slightly faster than it used to, it may present itself as a decent browser alternative. Nguyen is imploring former users to give the company another shot: “If you stopped using Firefox, try it again.”
Correction June 14th, 8:00PM ET: This story has been updated to correct Ryan Pollock’s title. He is the “senior product marketing manager” for Firefox, not Mozilla’s head of product marketing.