Mozilla: Firefox is faster than Chrome

Firefox says it's been working on TraceMonkey for just a few months, while Google has spent two years on its JavaScript interpreter.

Mozilla claims Firefox is faster than Google's Chrome.

Mozilla claims Firefox is faster than Google's Chrome.

Mozilla answered claims that Google's Chrome browser outperforms Firefox with benchmark results of its own that showed the upcoming Firefox 3.1 is faster at executing JavaScript.

According to tests run by Brendan Eich, Mozilla's chief technology officer and the creator of JavaScript, Firefox's new TraceMonkey interpreter is up to 28 percent faster than V8, the name Google gave to the interpreter used by Chrome.

Eich ran the SunSpider benchmarks on the most recent build of Firefox 3.1 as well as on Chrome, the beta browser Google released earlier this week. "We're very much in the game," said Eich in his blog Wednesday, where he detailed the test results. "Reports of our death are greatly exaggerated."

Within hours of Chrome's release, reviewers and bloggers had posted results from several JavaScript benchmarks -- SunSpider and Google's own V8 Benchmark Suite among them -- that showed Chrome being markedly faster than the current Firefox 3.0.1.

Eich disagreed. Although he called V8 "great work, very well-engineered," he said TraceMonkey has more potential than Google's interpreter for additional, and dramatic, speed improvements. "We've only been working on TraceMonkey for, what, three months now," he said in an interview Friday. Google has said its Danish engineers had been working on V8 for approximately two years.

"We think ours has more room to improve," said Eich.

In the specific areas where Chrome's V8 now blows TraceMonkey out of the water -- recursion tests, for example -- Mozilla will take catch-up steps soon. "We have a plan to trace recursion, not just tail recursion," Eich said. "We simply haven't had enough hours in the day to get to it, but it's next."

And in the end, it's not a zero-sum game, where if one browser wins, the other must lose. "We've never tried to say that Firefox is the fastest browser," Eich said. "For Web developers, what's important is if performance is close enough [between browsers] to actually deploy Web applications for those platforms."

Speed, after all, is not an end to itself. The reason browser performance, especially JavaScript performance, is important is because it allows developers to create Web applications able to rival traditional desktop programs in speed and sophistication. "The more browser makers who take performance to the next level, the likelier people will build Web apps that can replace desktop apps," said Eich.

Eich wasn't afraid to tip his hat to Google. "Chrome does some interesting things," he said. "There are some talented people working on Chrome."

Mozilla might end up taking some of Chrome's ideas, and perhaps even some of its open-source code, to work into Firefox. Tops on Eich's list: Chrome's running each browser tab as a separate process, an approach designed to prevent a single site, and thus tab, from crashing or locking up the whole browser.

"We've worked on isolating plug-ins," said Eich, "but that's been strictly a lower priority. But we were coming to the point even without Chrome that we were looking at [per-tab processes] for the next major iteration of Firefox."

Unless Mozilla shifts gears, that won't happen in Firefox 3.1, which has been cast as a fast-track update to Firefox 3.0 that mostly includes features dropped from the June upgrade.

Some Chrome source code, which was released under the open-source BSD license, might also find a place in Firefox, but Eich wasn't ready to speculate what Mozilla might grab. "We're going to look at it," he said. The most likely scenario: "There may be modules we could use."

In the near-term, Mozilla will push forward on TraceMonkey, which will be turned on in Firefox 3.1 Beta 1. By Mozilla's current schedule, that beta should reach users sometime next month. TraceMonkey has been added to Firefox 3.1's current nightly build, but its disabled by default. "We've been working more on stability [in TraceMonkey] than on performance, so we're on track to turn it on in Beta 1," Eich said.

He acknowledged the new competition from Google. "Mozilla has always been for choice on the Internet, so in that way, [Chrome's entry] has got to be good. But we have competitive pride, too. And we'll use that going forward."

But he also maintained that Mozilla sees it as more than a rivalry. "We're trying to make the lives of Web application developers easier so that the Internet is the place to be," he said. "In that way we're aligned with Google."

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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