Firefox 18 includes improvements in speed, graphics and networking, all of which are much needed to help Firefox keep up with Google's Chrome browser, which has been gaining market share at the expense of rivals.
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Mozilla engineer David Anderson said in a blog post that as a result of IonMonkey, Firefox 18 runs 26% faster than Firefox 17 using the Kraken benchmark and 7% faster using Google's V8 benchmark.
AreWeFastYet's recent benchmark performance comparison between Apple's Safari, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox both with and without IonMonkey suggests Mozilla still has some work to do to catch up with Chrome.
Anderson concedes as much in his post. "We still have a long way to go: Over the next few months, now with our fancy new architecture in place, we'll continue to hammer on major benchmarks and real-world applications," he said.
Mozilla's engineers will have to hurry. Speed is not the only reason Firefox appears to be losing market share to Chrome, but it's certainly among the most significant reasons after Google's distribution power is considered. In any event, the edge Google has in marketing Chrome through its search page and through Android might diminish somewhat as Mozilla's Firefox OS begins appearing on mobile phones around the world in the months ahead.
According to Internet metrics company StatCounter, Chrome had 36.42% of the global browser market in December 2012, up from 27.27% a year earlier. Firefox finished 2012 with 21.89%, down from 25.27% in December 2011, and Microsoft Internet Explorer also declined during the same period, dropping from 38.65% to 30.78%.
Firefox 18 adds support for Apple's Retina display on Mac OS 10.7 or later. Although these high-resolution screens aren't quite commonplace yet, Mozilla had to add this feature to keep pace with Chrome, which added Retina graphics support to its stable release channel in August 2012.
Another new feature in Firefox 18 is support for WebRTC, an API for real-time voice, video and file sharing through the browser, without plugins. The API provides developers with the opportunity to create innovative browser-based communications apps.
Firefox 18 also includes several other improvements and fixes, such as faster performance when switching tabs and better-quality scaled images. It's available for download from Mozilla's website or through Firefox's automatic update mechanism.
The Android version, which adds opt-in search suggestions as well as new phishing and malware protection, can be downloaded from Google Play.