File Under: Browsers

Firefox 15: Less Memory, Painless Updates

Mozilla has released Firefox 15, the latest version of the popular open source web browser.

Unlike some of the minor updates Firefox has seen lately, Firefox 15 brings some significant new features and improvements that make it well worth upgrading.

You can grab the latest version from the Firefox downloads page or if you’re already using Firefox, just check for updates and restart once they’ve downloaded. Then you can admire the annoying update progress bar for the last time since Firefox 15 marks the last time you’ll have to sit through it. This release introduces background updating for a smoother, nearly invisible update process much like you’ll find in Google Chrome.

The new updating mechanism allows Firefox to download any updates in the background and then apply them while the current version is still running. Then when you restart Firefox simply switches to the updated version — no mess, no fuss.

More than just a handy new feature, the seamless background updates should make Firefox feel a bit less like it’s always updating. It still will be, but much like Chrome you no longer need to worry about it.

While seamless background updates are a welcome change — and a long time coming — Firefox 15 has another major improvement that is likely to have an even bigger impact on your day-to-day browsing experience. This release is the first to stop most memory leaks caused by add-ons, including developer favorite, Firebug.

Mozilla has been working to solve Firefox’s memory issues for some time as part of its MemShrink effort. The payoffs for stock Firefox are already out in the wild, but for most users much of the appeal of Firefox lies with its many powerful add-ons. Unfortunately, those add-ons are often a source of memory leaks as well. Even the good add-ons; even the popular add-ons.

For the gory details about why Firefox add-ons leaked memory and how Mozilla’s developers have solved the problem, Nicholas Nethercote, head of the MemShrink effort, earlier shared a detailed explanation on his blog.

The bottom line is that the changes in Firefox 15 mean that many users with add-ons installed will see significant reductions in Firefox’s memory consumption.

Firefox 15 has a few new tools for web developers, including support for the CSS word-break property, which promises to eventually make proper hyphenation as simple as adding one line of CSS. At the moment only Firefox and Internet Explorer support word-break. (WebKit browsers have partial support.)

This release also sees some improvements to Firefox’s baked-in developer tools, which now include a nice responsive design testing tool. There’s also experimental support for the SPDY networking protocol v3 (you’ll need to turn on the v3 support in about:config). For a complete list of everything else that’s new for developers, be sure to read through Mozilla’s Firefox 15 for developers.