Mozilla ships Firefox 18 beta with faster JavaScript, Retina support

Browser maker claims the 'IonMonkey' JIT compiler boosts JavaScript speeds by up to 26 percent

Mozilla yesterday released a first beta of its next browser, Firefox 18, touting a revamped JavaScript engine and support for Macs with Apple's higher-resolution Retina displays.

Firefox 18 is currently slated to ship in final form the week of Jan. 7, 2013.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Mozilla suspends work on 64-bit Firefox for Windows. | Get your websites up to speed with HTML5 today using the techniques in InfoWorld's HTML5 Deep Dive PDF how-to report. | Learn how to secure your Web browsers in InfoWorld's "Web Browser Security Deep Dive" PDF guide. ]

Top of the improvement list, Mozilla said, was the new JavaScript JIT (just-in-time) compiler, dubbed "IonMonkey" in keeping with naming conventions that have pegged predecessors as "TraceMonkey" and "JaegerMonkey."

IonMonkey, which was first added to Firefox in mid-September with the "Nightly," or roughest, build of version 18, boasts new technology that allows Mozilla's browser to render complex JavaScript -- like that used by online games or Web-based applications -- significantly faster than previous JIT compilers.

Depending on the performance benchmark, IonMonkey speeds up Firefox's JavaScript rendering by between 7 and 26 percent, claimed David Anderson, a Mozilla engineer on the JIT compiler team, in a Sept. 12 blog post.

Other improvements in Firefox 18 highlighted by Mozilla included support for the Retina screens used by some Apple MacBook Pro notebooks, a browser-integrated PDF viewer, and an option that lets users disable insecure content -- that not protected by SSL, in other words -- found on HTTPS-secured sites.

That last feature has a possibly record-breaking history: According to Bugzilla, Mozilla's change- and bug-tracking database, work on insecure content disabling began almost 12 years ago, four years before Firefox 1.0 appeared.

"Way to go. I thought this might never land. And we beat the 12-year anniversary!" said Johnathan Nightingale, Mozilla's vice president of engineering, in a September 2012 message on the Bugzilla thread devoted to the feature.

The beta of Firefox 18 can be downloaded from Mozilla's website. Users who have been running earlier betas will be automatically updated to the new preview.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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This story, "Mozilla ships Firefox 18 beta with faster JavaScript, Retina support" was originally published by Computerworld.

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