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Firefox 57 (codenamed Quantum) is out – and it’s a big update. A Quantum leap, if you like, although we’re far too classy to go for such a cheap pun.
What’s new? Well, the big change is under the surface. Quantum is the name of the new browser engine and – on first spec – it’s frighteningly nippy. Pages seems to load the very instant you click them. This is largely because the new engine takes proper advantage of multi-core processors, finally exploiting of all the processing power on offer.
Firefox also promises that the new browser consumes much less memory (RAM) than rivals such as the increasingly bloatsome Chrome, although we’d like to do some proper testing before we’re prepared to back that up. (It’s also worth noting that if you’ve got 8GB upwards of RAM in your PC, it’s barely here nor there how much memory the browser uses.)
Firefox has also been given a Hollywood-grade facelift. The revamped Start/New Tab screen is very clean. Your most visited sites are corralled neatly under the search bar at the top. Beneath that sits a selection of highlights, which are pages/sites you’ve either recently visited or bookmarked.
Firefox 57 also integrates the much-loved Pocket service. This service is best thought of as a ‘read later’ list – allowing you to stash away interesting articles for a proper read when you’re not trying to shove the kids out of the door for the school run or get on with the day job. The Pocket icon appears in the Firefox address bar, so it could barely be easier to stash away stuff.
Your saved Pocket list can now be accessed through the new Library icon in the top right, which not only keeps your reading list, but bookmarks, history, downloads and your collection of screenshots.
Talking of screenshots, there’s a built-in tool to deal with those, too. It’s a little hidden away, found by clicking the three dots in the address bar. It allows you to quickly take a screenshot of an entire page or just a section of the page. Once the screenshot is taken, you have the option to save it, whereby Firefox will upload it to its own cloud for a fortnight and give you a link to paste into social media, allowing you to easily share the screen with others. It’s a very smart implementation.
Add-ons no more
The shift to Quantum could be bad news for some Firefox stalwarts. The browser has a new add-ons system, which means add-ons designed for previous versions have been automatically disabled. The developer will need to update their add-on for it to work in the new browser, which could lead to many old favourites falling by the wayside – at least for the time being.
Back in the game?
So, is this the Firefox update that finally convinces us to put Chrome aside and return to the Firefox fold? It’s early days and we’d like to do some serious browser benchmarking to find out if the immediate performance gains translate into a long-term boost. One thing I’ve noticed since installing Firefox this morning, for example, is that my laptop’s fans are whirring more than normal. That might be nothing to do with Firefox, but I’d like to give it a longer run to find out.
There’s also the big question of the mobile browser. One of the big reasons for sticking with Chrome is that I’m an Android user, and Chrome is the default on the phone, making it easy to sync passwords, history and the like. I’ll give the mobile Firefox a blast over the next few days to see if that can fill Chrome’s shoes.
Right now, however, I’m very tempted to switch my desktop browser back to Firefox for the first time in many years. The browser market has been crying out for competition. Edge is getting better, Vivaldi’s catering for the power-user purists, and now Firefox has really given the Google developers something to think about. Is a new browser war brewing? I bloody hope so.
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