John Brandon

Review: Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 no speed demon, lags behind Chrome

By John Brandon
October 15, 2008 10:11 AM EDT
Something went horribly wrong between the alpha of Firefox (called Shiretoko) and the first real Firefox 3.1 beta. I'm not too impressed so far. Compared to Chrome, in testing my most frequently visited sites, Firefox 3.1 now lags well behind Chrome. It seems Mozilla has not included beefed up JavaScript V8 support in this release, and it really shows.

IGN.com loaded in 45 seconds over a 2 meg connection this morning, compared to 28 seconds in Chrome. Gamespot.com loaded in 27 seconds in Firefox 3.1, compared to 20 seconds in Chrome (the site doesn't have quite as much rich content today -- no sprawling ads). Disney.com (not one of my favorite sites but a good test of load speed) took 30 seconds to load in Firefox 3.1 and 25 seconds in Chrome.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes pointed out that Google has a benchmark app available online for testing JavaScript. Chrome scored 2887 compared to a Firefox beta 1 score of only 334. (Higher numbers are better.) That's a massive difference -- Chrome users, you can enjoy a major speed perk.

The Firefox 3.1 beta includes a new feature for tab switching. It's kind of lame. When you press CTRL-Tab, you see large thumbnails of your tabs, but they look sort of munged. And how much tab switching do we really need? It's easier to just click the tab.

There's also support for CSS 2.1 and 3.0 properties, which is a little "heh" so far. I haven't noticed any major compatibility advantages, and -- in fact -- the 3.1 beta seemed to get confused by Disney.com.

The awesome bar -- which allows you to search through visited sites -- adds a few key commands for the true techies. You can restrict searches to only bookmarks by using *, or only search your history by using ^. LifeHacker goes into much greater detail on these minor syntax perks.

ReadWriteWeb has a good summary of the code enhancements. I'm not really jumping up and down about any of them. There's a new way for developers to access GPS data from mobile devices (using a geolocation API) for geo-location services. For example, a Web app could conceivably know that you are near a coffee shop with Wi-Fi and let you know the pricing options.

So does this mean Chrome is the speed champion? Yes, for now. Shiretoko showed that Mozilla knows how to make a fast browser, but I figure the 3.1 beta is a test for compatibility, not speed. The final 3.1 release, with tweaked JavaScript support, could blow Chrome out of the water and negate the main reason people have switched browsers.