With the release of Firefox 4 Beta 7, Mozilla returned to near the top spot in browser performance rankings.
On Wednesday, Mozilla launched Firefox 4 Beta 7, a preview that includes all the features slated to make it into the final, polished version next year.
Three of the five major browsers were closely bunched at the top. Opera 11 Alpha, which the Norwegian company released last month, barely edged Firefox 4 Beta 7, which in turn narrowly beat the beta of Google's Chrome 8.
Meanwhile, results for Apple's Safari and Microsoft's beta of Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) put that pair significantly behind the top three. For example, Firefox 4 Beta 7 was approximately 25% faster than IE9 Beta in the trials.
In two of the three tests, Firefox 4 Beta 7 proved three times faster than Firefox 3.6.12, the current production build. (Mozilla said V8's results showed Firefox 4 was five times faster than 3.6.12.)
"We knew we needed another major upgrade for Firefox 4 to make us fast all around," said David Mandelin, a Mozilla engineer who worked on JagerMonkey, in a September blog post that Mozilla cited yesterday.
Among other changes to Firefox 4 in Beta 7 were hardware acceleration in both Windows and Mac OS X, support for the WebGL 3D graphics standard, and support for the OpenType font format.
For the first time, Firefox now accelerates aspects of content rendering and page composition when running in Windows XP, Windows Vista and Window 7, as well as in Mac OS X.
Browser hardware acceleration shifts some tasks from a computer's main processor to its graphics processor to boost performance, especially of graphics-intensive chores like rendering video or complex three-dimensional objects.
Like Microsoft, which offers hardware acceleration in IE9, Mozilla relied on the Direct3D API (application programming interface) to boost page compositing in Windows. Mozilla, however, went one step further, accelerating page compositing, though not content rendering, in Windows XP.
Microsoft's IE9 will not run on Windows XP because the still-popular operating system doesn't support Direct2D, the API IE9 uses to boost content rendering.
Firefox 4 Beta 7 on the Mac uses the cross-platform OpenGL API to accelerate page composition.
The Linux version of Firefox 4 does not yet have hardware acceleration switched on, due, said a Mozilla engineer, to driver issues.
But the browser's development schedule remains aggressive, with three more betas before the end of the year. Mozilla, however, has tacitly acknowledged that the early 2011 final release is tentative, and could slip. "We will not ship software before it is ready," said Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox, when Mozilla announced the delay last month.
Firefox 4 Beta 7 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux from Mozilla's site.