First look: Firefox 4 Beta 1 shines on HTML5

Sure, Firefox 4's new Chrome-like UI is nice, but the real story is under the hood

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Are these differences notable during normal browsing? Not really. I felt like the latency of the Internet was the real bottleneck, not whether some complicated JavaScript loop was finishing 10 percent faster; after all, I don't see many complicated loops on the Web pages I visit. Most JavaScript does little more than dutifully fetch information and render it. The amount of memory in the computer is probably a bigger killjoy than the measured speed. Version 4.0 is just a beta, of course, and the best JavaScript engine still isn't included yet. Mozilla's release notes say that a better JIT (Just In Time) compiler for JavaScript and layered rendering engine are "coming soon."

There are areas in which Firefox still leads. Firefox's collection of extensions and plug-ins is still broader and more developed than any other. Firefox 4 nurtures this advantage by making it possible to turn the different extensions on and off without restarting. Firefox is also taking the lead by implementing Google's WebM video standard, a wise decision given that Firefox is largely supported by ad revenue from the Google search box. Chrome's own support for WebM is found through the early release version, but that should change soon.

Many people may come away from this beta feeling that Firefox is still catching up with the other browsers. The speed doesn't leapfrog the competition. The tabs are now arranged across the top of the window more like Chrome. Some of the buttons feel just like Opera's versions. It's clearly a competitive market these days, and the best innovations are quickly copied. The browser programmers are taking the best from each other, and this is competition at its finest.

Also on InfoWorld:

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