Innovation Lesson From Firefox Quantum

firefox 57 quantum

I’ve been a loyal Firefox user since version 0.4, back when an open source browser was a novelty. Thanks for Mozilla, today there are a handful of open source browsers in the market. Since then, many things have changed; including Firefox. Yesterday, Firefox 57 or Quantum was released. In a world where incremental improvements is the norm, this is actually a big release for Mozilla.

Let me explain, but first some context…

Back in 2008, Google brought a new value proposition to the browser wars with Chrome: speed, agility and reliability.

Chrome was really fast compared to other browsers on the market, and Google took advantage of every opportunity to remind you of it. This was key because by then most browsers had adopted the extensions strategy pioneered by Firefox. The problem with extensions is it made browsers slow by using more processing and system memory resources; hence the opening Google saw and took advantage with Chrome. Since then, Google Chrome surpassed Firefox as the second most used browser in the world behind Internet Explorer.

Mozilla, the creators of Firefox, have been trying to catch up ever since by making tweaks here and there; they’ve mostly succeed in getting up to par with Google Chrome.

Still, most users perceive Chrome to be the speed king; even though head to head benchmarks say otherwise. Now, Chrome isn’t perfect. It’s initial innovation has now become a pain: It pioneered an architecture that separated tabs into separate processes which made it more reliable when an individual page crashed; but this architecture has resulted in the use of a lot of system memory.

And that’s where Firefox 57 comes in.

What’s different today?

Firefox 57 takes advantage of this with a new architecture that makes it 2x faster while also using 30% less memory than Chrome.

It’s all in the code:

“This story starts a couple of years ago. Probably the most unique aspect of Firefox Quantum, our secret sauce, is its use of Rust, the programming language that we developed, to run parts of the browser in parallel (e.g CSS engine), utilizing multiple CPU cores.”

I can validate these performance improvements, as I’ve been using Firefox 57 for the last two weeks or so. For example, I usually have 30+ tabs open at any time so using Chrome is not a viable option for me. As others have noted, Firefox does a better job at using system memory than Chrome does.

Firefox Quantum is the first web browser that actively taps into the power of your computer’s multi-core processor. Most browsers, like Chrome, aren’t coded with attention to multi-core chips. Given the speed of modern multi-core processors, that’s not much of a hindrance — but it is a hindrance. There’s unused power lying idle. Firefox Quantum aims to tap into those extra cores by putting them to work. This smart resource allocation means Firefox Quantum is technically the quickest browser on the market, depending on your benchmark.

Just like Google noticed that browsers were getting slower 10 years ago, today Mozilla is pushing everyone ahead by understanding the technological evolution of hardware and making the necessary changes to optimize their software for it.

Now others will be forced to catch up; and that’s great for all of us.

So, what’s the key lesson?

One thing is always certain: the future will be different. The question is, how?

Even though Moore’s Law is reaching its limit, browsers have not quite adapted to the evolution of multi-core processors. This is important because there’s still a lot of room for improving the performance of a browser.

Innovators create the future by asking themselves hard questions about what could happen and what will be different. For you, this means you have to understand technological evolution by creating a technology and market roadmap.

As I’ve stated before, you either innovate or die.

Ask yourself: What’s changing? What’s different today from 10 years ago? Where are things going? If you started over, knowing what you know today, what would you do?

Also published on Medium.

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