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Hands-On: Firefox 6 Offers Speed Improvements, Little Else

Mozilla hasn't yet officially released its Firefox 6 update, but you can get your hands on a copy by downloading it from Mozilla's FTP server. We installed a copy on a Lenovo IdeaPad V470 put it through its paces against Firefox 5 as well as two of its biggest competitors, Google Chrome 13 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 9. Since the download isn't an official release, it didn't include any release notes, which would have given us the lowdown on the majority of the changes Mozilla made to its web browser. Despite that, there are a few changes we noticed right off the bat.

Firefox 6 Domain Highlighting

The first thing that caught our eye is how Firefox 6 highlights domain names in URLs. Despite its simplicity, we think the feature helps draw users' eyes to the domain name when looking at a long URL. That's especially nice when you have multiple tabs open and want a quick and easy way to identify which website you are on, without scrolling through all of the page's content.

Other improvements to the browser include an updated permissions tool that lets users set privileges for individual websites. To access the feature, we had to type "about:permissions" into the address bar. We were then able to run through a list of websites that we had visited and change permissions for them. We could allow cookies for one site, while blocking them for another, or enable pop-ups for our bank's website, but block them for other sites.

Firefox 6 Performance

Firefox 6 also felt a little bit faster than its predecessor, but we wanted to be certain that it was. In Peacekeeper, a benchmark that measures a browser's capabilities using Javascript, Firefox 5 scored 4,733. We then ran Firefox 6 on the same system using Peacekeeper, and recorded a similar score of 4,572.

Firefox 5 also ran the Javascript benchmarking test SunSpider in 306 milliseconds, while Firefox 6 turned in a nearly identical 319 ms. 

Both IE9 and Chrome brought in better scores than either version of Firefox on both Peacekeeper and SunSpider. Using Peacekeeper, IE9 pulled in a score of 4,830, while Chrome managed to score a 8,400. IE 9 and Chrome also performed better than Firefox 6 in the SunSpider test, completing the trial in 278 ms and 304 ms, respectively. We then ran each of the browsers through Google's WebGL aquarium test. Firefox 6 was able to run the test at an average of 28 frames per second, a huge improvement over Firefox 5's 14 fps. Chrome managed to run the test with an average of 43 fps. IE 9 unfortunately does not support WebGL.

In our final test, we ran each of the browsers through Acid3, which measures a browser's compatibility with various web standards by performing 100 subtests broken down into six groups. Both versions of Firefox scored an average of 97 our of 100, while IE 9 scored an average of 95 out of 100. Chrome on, on the other hand, scored a perfect 100 out of 100.

Overall, the improvements we were able to measure and view to Firefox 6, with the exception of upgrades to the WebGL component, amounted to small but nice touches.  This is, of course, the second update issued under Mozilla's new rapid release initiative, which calls for new versions of the browser to be issued every three months, so we weren't expecting anything too groundbreaking. We'll have a more in-depth list of updates to the browser when it and its release notes go live on Tuesday.

A newspaper man at heart, Dan Howley wrote for Greater Media Newspapers before joining Laptopmag.com. He also served as a news editor with ALM Media’s Law Technology News, and he holds a B.A. in English from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.