Firefox is one of open source's biggest success stories. Not only is it a hit with mainstream users, it's also popular with developers, who've created a number of spinoffs, derivatives, and alternative builds from its code base.
Alternative builds of Firefox exist mainly to take advantage of processor instructions that aren't used in the official Mozilla versions. Mozilla codes Firefox so that it will run on the broadest possible number of machines. But that breadth of compatibility comes with a performance penalty. The instruction sets used by alternative builds -- and unused in Mozilla's official edition -- provide a speed boost.
[ Also on InfoWorld: 6 Google Chrome remixes worth trying | 13 features that make each Web browser unique | Attack of the mobile Web browsers | Learn how to secure your Web browsers in InfoWorld's "Web Browser Security Deep Dive" PDF guide. ]
Under-the-hood changes in private builds might also include custom features (such as Atelier's portable mode), but just as often they involve disabling standard Firefox features (such as the removal of accessibility extensions and parental controls in Pale Moon) -- again, for the sake of better performance and stability.
Another common reason for alternative builds is to create native 64-bit editions of Firefox, which can address larger memory spaces and in theory perform better than their 32-bit counterparts. It's safe to assume any PC shipped today is running a 64-bit version of Windows, but many apps remain available only in 32-bit editions for compatibility. Firefox is one such app, in large part because of the significant number of 32-bit Windows systems still in use.
I've long been curious about the state of third-party Firefox builds. Here I've surveyed the most prevalent third-party builds to see whether or not they're worth the trouble of swapping in to replace stock editions of Firefox. My criteria for picking these particular builds? First, they're actively maintained. Second, they're optimized for 64-bit systems or, at the very least, just plain optimized for faster performance. And third, they're available in a Windows edition, important because Windows constitutes the biggest installation base for Firefox.
In every case but one, I tested builds that used the 10.0 branch of Firefox. The lone exception, Atelier, is based on the 9.2 version of Firefox. I also ran the browsers against a set of common browser benchmarks:
The test system was a quad-core Intel Q6600, 2.4GHz, with 4GB of RAM running Windows 7 Ultimate.
You may still be better off sticking with Win7 or Win8.1, given the wide range of ongoing Win10...
Early results look promising: the many-hours-long Win7 waits may be behind us
Now that we're down to the wire, many upgraders report that the installer hangs. If this happens to...
Combining the telecom giant and content titan is a lose-lose for consumers and the economy alike
Check out the new bells and whistles -- including the Touch Bar -- on Apple's latest iterations of the...
We may not need another JVM language, but open source Whiley could wind up with other back ends
The originator of the Apache Spark big data processing framework has outfitted its cloud service with...