There was a time when a new Mozilla Firefox release was primarily about unique features not seen elsewhere, features that would literally change the way we use the web. Firefox 13, released by Mozilla today, is not one of those releases.
Firefox 13 provides features that users of other browser platforms have seen for years. Most notably in the new Mozilla release there is a New Tab page. Instead of starting with a blank page for a tab, Mozilla is now copying functionality present in Opera, Chrome and Safari.
All those browsers have features that provide a new tab page that highlights the most frequently access pages. In Safari, the feature is called ‘cover flow’ and it’s a feature that Apple has provided its users with since at least 2007. Firefox 13 now does the same and enables users to customize the new page as well, following Apple’s lead five years after the fact.
Mozilla is also following Google’s Chrome browser. Google debuted its SPDY web protocol acceleration technology in 2009. Mozilla has been toying with SPDY support since the beginning of the year with the Firefox 11 release. With Firefox 13, SPDY is now on by default, whereas previously it was an option. SPDY has gained broader adoption in the past year and could potentially become a W3C standard in the coming years.
In addition to the SPDY support, Firefox 13 benefits from Mozilla’s own Project Snappy effort, which is all about making Firefox faster. One key change reflected in Firefox 13: that background tabs are only loaded on demand, instead of on startup.
“In Firefox 13, only the active tab will load,” Lawrence Mandel, Firefox Engineering Program Manager, wrote in a blog post. “Loading of background tabs is deferred until a tab is selected. This results in Firefox starting faster as tabs-on-demand reduces processing requirements, network usage, and memory consumption.”
Startup time for Firefox 13 in general has been optimized by way of a concerted effort from Project Snappy to make the startup sequence as efficient as possible.
“There are numerous other Snappy fixes in Firefox 13, including significant improvements to IO contention, font enumeration, and livemark overhead,” Mandel added. “All of these fixes contribute to a more responsive experience.”
From a security perspective, Mozilla is also following Google’s lead as well.
As part of the Firefox 13 release, Mozilla has issued seven security advisories, four of which are rated as critical. Two separate critical advisories, dealing with at least four security issues, were reported to Mozilla by researchers using Google security tools.
Both of the researchers used the open source Address Sanitizer tool that Google relies on heavily for Chrome security to find flaws in Firefox. Address Sanitizer looks for use-after-free memory and buffer overflow issues.
One of the security researchers that is credited with the a use-after-free flaw discovery is Arthur Gerkis. Gerkis is well-known in the Chrome security community and was awarded a special $10,000 bonus by Google in March of this year for his efforts in finding use-after-free flaws.