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Firefox 3.1: Thanks For The Memory!

Firefox 3.1 is currently in its second beta release, and it already looks great. In fact, it looks set to deliver a lot more than one might expect from a typical "minor" software-update release.
Firefox 3.1 is currently in its second beta release, and it already looks great. In fact, it looks set to deliver a lot more than one might expect from a typical "minor" software-update release.InaTux.com recently posted a good summary of some frequently-overlooked new features coming in Firefox 3.1. One of the most important of these under-the-hood tweaks will streamline Firefox's memory usage, allowing it to run faster and far more efficiently.

Firefox 3.0 already delivered major improvements in memory usage; most notably, it fixed a number of persistent, and often very annoying, memory-leak bugs. This time around, the changes in Firefox 3.1 will focus on the browser's normal memory usage, which according to this December, 2008 blog post already requires just two-thirds of the RAM that Firefox 3.0 requires for normal Web-browsing operations.

Keep in mind that with Firefox 3.1 still in beta, these numbers are likely to get even better before Mozilla issues a production release. In any case, it looks like the changes will eliminate, once and for all, any lingering concerns over the browser's desktop memory footprint.

Another major new feature will allow Firefox 3.1 users to run in a privacy-enhanced browsing mode which allows users to browse the Web without saving any session information. This will give Firefox feature parity in this area with Safari and Google Chrome, both of which already offer similar capabilities. In addition, Firefox 3.1 will add the ability to clear the browser's history by time and to remove all traces of a previously-visited site from a user's desktop cache.

Under the hood, Firefox 3.1 won't just deliver improved memory usage. It will also, for the first time, use TraceMonkey as the browser's default JavaScript rendering engine.

TraceMonkey is already included in Firefox 3.0, but it is turned off by default (if you want to enable it --as many Firefox power users do, typically with great results -- check out my previous blog post with detailed instructions on how to do so.) With TraceMonkey enabled, Firefox 3.1 will deliver eye-popping improvements in JavaScript performance, interpreting and rendering scripts between 20 and 40 times faster than Mozilla's current JavaScript engine.

Development on Firefox 3.1 proceeded in parallel with Firefox 3.0; alpha builds have been available since last summer, and the current beta release is looking quite solid. If you're even mildly curious about Firefox 3.1 (and either know how to back up your profile or don't mind if something goes wrong and you lose your profile), check out the release notes and download the most current pre-release build here. Everyone else can expect a final Firefox 3.1 release to appear before the middle of the year.