Tech

Back to the Browser: FIREFOX returns to the game, better than ever

For a vast majority of people, for a very long time, the answer has been Google Chrome. And yes, sure, why would it not be so? When the first iteration of Chrome appeared, it blew its users away with its simplicity. Its super-minimalistic interface belied its speed and functionality. Sure, it lacked a few bells and whistles here and there, but it had all the basics thoroughly covered. If Internet Explorer was a creaky vintage jalopy, Opera a nice sedan and Firefox a sturdy family SUV, Chrome was the sleek sports car that blew past them all. It took shockingly little time for Chrome to become the people’s browser of choice, with a market share of over 60%. For years its popularity went unchallenged.

While Chrome flourished, its rivals had not been sitting idle. The mighty Microsoft attempted to fight it for years with the universally loathed Internet Explorer, before finally retiring it in Windows 10 and replacing it with the much faster Edge, a new-generation browser that focused on righting the wrongs of the past by being a powerful and multifunctional alternative to Chrome with a plethora of useful features. Opera wisely utilized the freely available open source code of Chrome to create the next iteration of the Opera browser, while adding a host of useful features to it. This method was also adopted by many other developers who were looking to develop custom-tailored browsers upon a highly flexible base of unquestionable stability. Firefox, meanwhile, plowed through with incremental updates, slowly making improvements here and there, but not making any real breakthroughs, which cost them a considerable amount of the global browser market share.

However, it did not take Chrome very long to stray from its lean roots. As new features were added to its frameworks, the browser grew bloated in size, and it became incredibly laggy on slower systems, particularly on systems with less system memory. While still wildly popular and very, very fast, Chrome became notorious as a resource hog. It also became apparent that Chrome did not play very nice with add-on extensions that promised to add new features to the browser, often introducing additional slowdowns and instabilities instead.

In late 2017, Mozilla, the creators of Firefox, finally announced the arrival of the mysterious-sounding Firefox Quantum – a new generation of the Firefox browser, with a fresh code base that promised to deliver speed and efficiency that would easily rival those of Chrome, if not surpass them all together. It also promised a new architecture that could take full advantage of the powerful hardware, preventing slowdowns and crashes even with dozens of tabs open. However, similar claims had been made by developers about many browsers in the past, so it was not until the arrival of Quantum that people realized that Mozilla had indeed delivered on their lofty promises.

Firefox Quantum is fast. Staggeringly so. It was built to make use of available system resources wisely, by its current requirements. While being capable of addressing vast amounts of system memory, Quantum has been optimized to use it wisely and only when needed. It also makes short work of the system’s available processing power, taking advantage of the multicore processors that most computers contain nowadays. At the user end, all this technological wizardry translates into speeds comparable to greased lightning. Not only does it render web pages at blistering paces, but it also stops many of the invisible trackers deployed by certain websites to snoop on users’ online activity, ensuring the privacy of the user. The address bar doubles as a quick search bar, and displays results with astounding accuracy and relevance. It even allows users to quickly track downlinks from the browser’s history directly from the address bar with nothing but keyword search fragments.

Despite its fancy name and outstanding performance, Quantum is still a tool for browsing the web. But it does so better than any other browser out there right now while wasting fewer system resources, and doing it much quicker, saving precious seconds on the part of the user. It does not bog the system down by eating up all its available RAM the way Chrome or Chrome-based browsers do. Even with dozens of tabs open, Quantum’s interface rarely exhibits any form of stuttering, let alone crashing.

Quantum also comes with some nifty little tricks that make it even more of a pleasure to use. The fantastic ‘Send to Device’ option allows open web pages and articles to be shared instantaneously across all devices owned by the user, as long as they are all running Mozilla Firefox. It even adds a fantastic ergonomic touch by remembering the user’s last position within the page regardless of the device it was originally read on. Users can even choose to bookmark synchronized pages and articles for later reading with Mozilla’s ‘Pocket’ service, which comes integrated with the browser out of the box.

The most prominent blessing of Firefox Quantum is its intuitive design. It recognizes the features demanded by most users and moves to deliver them accordingly. For example, it comes with an integrated screenshot-taking tool that allows users to rapidly capture and save all or parts of whatever Firefox is displaying at the moment. While many browsers enable such features to be added through add-ons, having them built into the browser makes them considerably more stable.

Although Firefox Quantum is not particularly unique when it comes to appearance because it follows the paradigm of minimalistic functionality first introduced by Chrome all those years ago. However, the browser’s interface remains as customizable as ever, allowing every button to be moved around to suit the user’s convenience and define font overrides for various types of scripts being rendered. Default programs can be set for the handling of custom links.

One sad aspect of Firefox Quantum is that its revamped architecture has broken the browser’s support for ‘legacy’ old-style plugins. While some add-on developers have moved swiftly to update their extensions and run them compatible with the new code of Quantium, many extensions (including a few must-use ones) are still in stuck in developmental limbo, and their fate remains uncertain.

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