Subject: General Tech | August 22, 2017 - 10:12 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mozilla, firefox, servo, Rust
If you’re on Firefox Nightly, you are able to enable their new CSS engine with an about:config flag, called layout.css.servo.enabled. For a few years now, Mozilla has been working on a separate rendering engine, aided by Samsung, which was called Servo. Browsers are very single-threaded, so there was a lot of room for improvement, especially on devices that can afford more cores than per-core performance, like mobile. It is also more secure, as its programming language, Rust, is more strict with data accesses than C/C++, which is also great for a web browser.
Eventually, Mozilla decided to, instead of replacing Gecko, replace chunks of it with tech derived from Servo. Up to now, it’s been mostly security-related components, like the parsing of untrusted media headers. This one is about speed. I'm curious to see how it feels to our readers. I know that, personally, going from Firefox 54 to Firefox 55 was a significant difference, although that was due to other changes.
If you’re interested, download Firefox Nightly. I mean, it’s free.
Subject: General Tech | March 8, 2017 - 04:00 PM | Scott Michaud
Honestly, I haven’t heard much from WebAssembly in several months, so I was figured they were still quite a ways off. Several big engines, like Unreal Engine 4, not really putting their weight behind HTML5 as much as they were about three years ago, during the Windows 8- and iOS-era. Now I see the above video, which starts with Tim Sweeney and goes on to include others from Mozilla, Autodesk, and Unity, and I am starting to assume that I just wasn’t looking in the right areas.
According to the video, though, it sounds like application startup time is the primary reason for shipping WebAssembly. That could just be what they feel the consumer-facing message should convey, though. I should probably poke around and see what some web and game developer contacts think about WebAssembly.
Firefox 52 is now available.
Subject: General Tech | February 7, 2017 - 02:47 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mozilla, firefox, web browser, Rust, llvm
Firefox 52 will be the company’s next Extended Support Release (ESR) branch of their popular web browser. After this release, Mozilla is planning a few changes that will break compatibility, especially if you’re building the browser from source. If you’re an end-user, the major one to look out for is Mozilla disabling NPAPI-based plugins (except Flash) unless you are using Firefox 52 ESR. This change will land in the consumer version of Firefox 52, though. It’s not really clear why they didn’t just wait until Firefox 53, rather than add a soft-kill in Firefox 52 and hard-code it the next version, but that’s their decision. It really does not affect me in the slightest.
The more interesting change, however, is that Mozilla will begin requiring Rust (and LLVM) in an upcoming version. I’ve seen multiple sources claim Firefox 53, Firefox 54, and Firefox 55 as possible targets for this, but, at some point around those versions, critical components of the browser will be written in Rust. As more of the browser is migrated to this language, it should be progressively faster and more secure, as this language is designed to enforce memory safety and task concurrency.
Firefox 52 is expected in March.
Subject: General Tech | January 27, 2017 - 03:55 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: webgl, webgl2, firefox, chrome, google, mozilla, Opera
After quite a bit of anticipation, both Mozilla and Google have just shipped compatible implementations of WebGL 2. This feature was unlocked to the public in Firefox 51 and Chrome 56 for the desktop, both released this week, while Opera will push it out to desktop and mobile on their next version, Opera 43. Microsoft currently has the API “under consideration” for Edge.
As we’ve highlighted in the past, this new version of the graphics API pushes the platform up to OpenGL ES 3.0, with a few exceptions that are typically made for security reasons. This update allows quite a few new features like off-screen render targets, which is useful for deferred rendering. The shading language is also significantly larger, and can now operate natively on integer types and 3D textures.
WebGL 2.0 does not include compute shaders, however, which is a bit unfortunate. That said, it is (at least last I checked) a highly-requested feature and the browser vendors are interested in providing it.
Subject: General Tech | October 30, 2016 - 01:09 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mozilla, servo, gecko, firefox
One of the big announcements at Mozilla Summit 2013, despite Firefox OS being the focus of the event, was their research (with Samsung) into a new rendering engine, Servo. Rendering HTML5 is horrifically complex, so creating a new rendering engine from scratch is a big “nope!” for basically all organizations. Mozilla saw this as a big potential, because current engines are very difficult to scale to multiple cores, so they went in to this as a no-assumptions experiment.
At the time, they didn't know whether Servo would be built up into a full rendering engine, or whether it would be picked apart and pulled back into their current engine, Gecko. Mozilla has now unveiled Quantum, and the first sentence of its MozillaWiki entry is “Quantum is not a new web browser.” They go on to say that they will be “building on the Gecko engine as a solid foundation”. So it seems pretty clear that, like they've recently done with their media file parser in Firefox 48.
While this will likely not have the major impact that “boom, new engine” would, in terms of performance, this piece-wise method should be quicker than bulking up Servo. Mozilla expects that big changes will begin to land next year.
Subject: Storage | October 5, 2016 - 07:57 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: ssd, mozilla, google, firefox, endurance, chrome
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a post pop up on Twitter a few times about Firefox performing excessive writes to SSDs, which total up to 32GBs in a single day. The author attributes it mostly to a fast-updating session restore feature, although cookies were also resource hogs in their findings. In an update, they also tested Google Chrome, which, itself, clocked in over 24GB of writes in a day.
This, of course, seemed weird to me. I would have thought that at least one browser vendor might notice an issue like this. Still, I passed the link to Allyn because he would be much more capable in terms of being able to replicate these results. In our internal chat at the time, he was less skeptical than I was. I've since followed up with him, and he said that his initial results “wasn't nearly as bad as their case”. He'll apparently elaborate on tonight's podcast, and I'll update this post with his findings.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 29, 2016 - 02:15 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mozilla, Firefox OS, firefox
Update: There has been a little confusion. The web browser, Firefox, is still going strong. In fact, they're focusing their engineering efforts more on it, by cutting back on these secondary projects.
Less than a year after their decision to stop developing and selling smartphones through carriers, Mozilla has decided to end all commercial development of Firefox OS. Releases after Firefox OS 2.6 will be handled by third parties, such as Panasonic, should they wish to continue using it for their smart TV platform. Further, source code for the underlying operating system, Boot-to-Gecko (B2G), will be removed from their repository, mozilla-central, so it doesn't hinder development of their other products.
Regardless, Mozilla needs to consider their long-term financial stability, and throwing resources at Firefox OS apparently doesn't return enough value for them, both directly and for its impact on society.
Subject: General Tech | September 20, 2016 - 04:51 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mozilla, firefox
While it was originally scheduled for last week, some last-minute issues preventing the software non-profit organization from releasing it until today. Also, for some reason, Firefox for Android doesn't want to update from within itself, but triggering an update from the Google Play store works. This might be temporary and/or happens with every Firefox for Android update; I'm new to this platform.
With Firefox 49, VentureBeat is reporting that Mozilla is allowing a “small initial set of compatible add-ons” to be enabled alongside multi-process. If you don't have any non-compatible add-ons installed, then you should see Multiprocess Windows enabled in about:support. Otherwise, it will be disabled and you won't see any difference.
Interestingly, Mozilla is promoting "Refresh Firefox" at their site if you have the latest version. This basically cleans all the add-ons out of your user profile, but maintains browsing history, bookmarks, and the like. It might have been around for a while, but, if it's new, it times nicely with the multi-process rollout. On top of cleaning out old, crufty add-ons, a user should see a bigger jump when Mozilla's enhancements are (I'm guessing) enabled.
Mozilla has also changed a few things here and there, too. While many of our readers will probably have hardware acceleration for video, they have just added in SSSE3 enhancements if GPU support isn't available. I'm not sure all of the use cases for this, but I'd expect it would help in virtualized environments and certain, older PCs (ex: Intel Atom and Via Nano). I'm just speculating, though.
Subject: General Tech | July 16, 2016 - 05:41 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mozilla, Rust, firefox
Mozilla has been working on the Rust language for several years now. It is designed to be extremely fast, memory-safe, and easy to parallelize on multi-core processors, doing so by having a compiler that's not afraid to tell you “Nope.” Mozilla (and others, like Samsung) want a language with those characteristics because it will make an extremely fast, yet secure, web browser (although there's a lot of single-threaded design choices tangled in the Web specifications).
The first example will arrive next month for Windows, though (64-bit OSX and Linux already had it). Firefox 48 will replace a small portion of the code, originally written in C++, with a Rust-based equivalent. The affected component parses media files, getting values like track id, duration, resolution, and so forth. Because it's written in Rust, this ingestion should be resilient to memory-based vulnerabilities.
This probably will not be noticeable to end-users, but it's a few thousand less lines of code that Mozilla should need to worry about hijacking the browser. Mozilla is also planning on bringing URL parsing to Rust, and has already done so with Servo. You would think that the C++ code has been battle-hardened by now, but, I mean, 15-year-old open-source bugs do exist, hiding in plain sight.
Subject: General Tech | June 9, 2016 - 01:08 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mozilla, firefox
This roll-out won't necessarily be immediate, though. You can install Firefox 48 and, only some weeks later, get Electrolysis turned on retroactively. They are starting with about 1% of eligible users, which will ramp up to all eligible users over time or even be disabled if alarm bells start to ring.
Speaking of eligible users, there are quite a few conditions that will prevent you from getting Electrolysis. Namely, if you use extensions (it's unclear if they're talking about all extensions, or just ones that use certain APIs) then you will be kept on single-process. They don't specify why, but it could very well be the situation that I mentioned in the first paragraph.
Firefox 48 is scheduled to be released in six weeks (the first week of August).