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Mozilla releases its fastest ever web browser, Firefox 18

"The Firefox of today is significantly better than the Firefox of a year ago in every way," wrote Mozilla vice president of engineering Johnathan Nightingale in a recent blog post. There are good cases to be made for that statement, including the browser's better security, faster startup, a social network API, and more efficient memory use.

With Tuesday's release of Firefox 18, the independent web browser gets a boost from a new JavaScript compiler, called IonMonkey, which the organisation claims can speed up web applications like online games by a whopping 25 per cent. The new release also adds support for high-resolution Apple MacBook Retina displays, as spelled out in a release announcement on the Mozilla Blog.

The Android version of Firefox has also been updated with search suggestions and new protections against phishing and malware.

To demonstrate the browser's new speedup, Mozilla developers have created BananaBread, a 3D first-person shooter web game coded using the open WebGL, HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript standards. Keep in mind, though, that the WebGL graphics capability isn't actually part of HTML5 and it's not supported in Internet Explorer, though it is found in all other major browsers.

We also ran a couple of JavaScript browser benchmarks to compare the new version with the old. While the well-known SunSpider benchmark produced puzzling results, with the time taken to run the benchmark increasing on each subsequent run, Mozilla's own measure of JavaScript performance, the Kraken benchmark, did show a significant boost. On a 3.16GHz dual-core PC running Windows 7, Firefox 17 delivered a score of 3124ms compared with 2409ms for the new Firefox 18 — an improvement of 23 per cent.

The new version also adds preliminary support for WebRTC, which among other things, allows web pages to access a computer's webcam and microphone without the need for plugins such as Adobe Flash or Microsoft SilverLight. Other performance improvements and new standards support show up in Firefox 18, including support for W3C touch events — very useful on tablets. According to Mozilla's release notes, startup time has been improved by "smart handling of signed extension certificates."

For more on Firefox 18, you can read the Mozilla blog post, "Firefox Makes Web Games and Apps Speedier." You can also download it and try it out for yourself at