Review: Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 -- The Best Is Yet To Come - InformationWeek

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Review: Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 -- The Best Is Yet To Come

Despite a potentially powerful new geolocation feature, users won't see much difference between Firefox 3.0 and 3.1 -- at least, not yet.

Another potentially dramatic improvement for Firefox 3.1 is the new TraceMonkey engine for speeding up JavaScript performance. JavaScript is the "J" in AJAX, it's the basis for Web applications including Gmail and Google Maps. Speeding up JavaScript performance will speed up the most useful pages on the Web.

TraceMonkey code is designed to speed up JavaScript performance in Firefox 3.1.
(click for image gallery)

TraceMonkey is disabled by default in the current beta, but you can enable it by going to the URL about:config and setting javascript.options.jit.content to true.

We tried it out on a test machine running Windows XP, and compared Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 performance with other browsers using the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark. We found that Firefox 3 Beta 1 with TraceMonkey switched on was significant faster than the nearest competitor, completing the benchmark in 1878.2 msec.

Second-fastest was the Chrome browser, finishing in 2697.2 msec.

Following Chrome was Firefox 3 Beta 1 with TraceMonkey switched off (2351.4 msec), then Firefox 3.03 (3495.0 msec), and Opera 9.6 (5731.6 msec).

Bringing up the rear, long after the other horses were in the stable, was Internet Explorer 7, which clocked in at 52,137.6 msec -- almost nine times slower than Opera 9.6!

The most visible feature of the new Firefox is the new way that it handles switching between tabs. When you rotate between open tabs by hitting Ctrl-Tab (on Windows or the Mac), you get a preview bar, similar to the one you see when you Alt-Tab in Windows, or Cmd-Tab on the Mac. The preview bar shows you thumbnails of your open tabs. It's a very useful feature. Tabs have a tendency to proliferate out of control, and the new preview bar is a good way to keep track of them.

You don't have to wait for Firefox 3.1 to get the benefits of the tab preview bar; the Ctrl-Tab extension to Firefox does the same thing.

Also in Firefox 31 beta 1: You can now drag tabs to your desktop to create a new window, and drag tabs between windows.

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