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AlBlue’s Blog

Macs, Modularity and More

Spider on the Web - performance metrics

Mac 2008
Thankyou AlBlue's Blog Readers

Everyone knows that today is Spread Firefox day, hoping to set a record for the most number of downloads. I took the opportunity to get counted, and downloaded my copy.

The first thing I noticed was that it looked much better than FireFox 2 did on my Mac, probably because it fits in with the UI as a more natural application. The icons (particularly the backwards/forwards button) are a little too stylish for my liking, but generally it feels like it's been brought out of the Aqua age and into the current Mac OS X style.

The next thing I noticed was the speed it took; it felt much more lively than the previous version of FireFox. It still takes a while to load (Safari usually comes up in a bounce or two; FireFox takes a few more). However, whilst Google Mail used to take around 8s to laod in FireFox 2, it took around 4s to load in FireFox 3. Rough estimates showed that FF3 was at least as fast as Safari 3.1, probably faster. To put it to the test, I ran the browsers through SunSpider, a JavaScript benchmarking utility, and stacked up FireFox against Safari on my Mac (lowly single-core G4 laptop), along with the latest nightly WebKit nightly (r34604, in case you're interested). Here are the numbers:

  1. WebKit r34604 10920.6ms +/- 6.3%
  2. FF 3.0 12362.8ms +/- 11.9%
  3. Safari 3.1 29850.4ms +/- 17.5%
  4. FF 2.0 53953.4ms +/- 22.9%

What does this tell us? Well, performance of FF2 was really out of line in these tests; I'm not sure exactly why, but it did seem to suffer. But the key thing to take away is they're all getting a lot faster. Perhaps it's no surprise that advances in technology and compilation will have helped a little, but it's clear that performance of web engines is starting to be taken seriously. There's a lot of interesting documentation about improvements to WebKit's JavaScript renderer using SquirrelFish, and as web-sites become richer (using frameworks like SproutCore and GWT), the performance of web browsers is going to become a marketing point like never before; even more so than standardisation tests such as Acid3 ever could. (It's worth noting that both Safari 3.1 and FF 3.0 have a pass rate of around 3/4 on the Acid3 test; having said that, whilst WebKit now passes 100%, it probably won't ship until Snow Leopard which would mean FF 3.x may still be able to beat Safari to a 100% pass rate.)

Anyway, the results of my somewhat less-than-scientific comparison indicate that FireFox is a worthy browser that (it has to be said) has a number of better plugins than the Safari browser does. It also has the advantage of being the fastest shipping application out of the two; and there's no reason not to use it on a Mac now that it doesn't look as ugly as it did before. Download it today and be counted!