Which is the Fastest Next-Gen Browser?–and Why This Matters

Webware is out with some interesting speed tests on the Google Chrome browser and the latest beta version of Firefox 3.1, which we wrote about here. Chrome has been much lauded for its Javascript performance, which could let users of online applications such as Zoho work with better speed, and could let online application providers add more features.

In Webware’s tests, though, Tracemonkey-enabled Firefox 3.1 (beta) outdid Chrome in Javascript performance. Here are the details and what they mean.

Webware tested the two browsers–along with Apple’s Safari and beta 2 of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer version 8 browser, using the well-known benchmark test SunSpider. After some initial results that showed Chrome performing fastest on Javascript tests, it came to light that Firefox 3.1’s TraceMonkey JavaScript engine wasn’t enabled for the test.

When the tests were run again with TraceMonkey enabled (the first beta of Firefox 1 is seeing its handling of TraceMonkey cleaned up) Webware found Firefox fastest, Chrome second, Safari next, and the IE 8 beta last. As Stephen Shankland from Webware notes: “JavaScript is widely used in innumerable ordinary Web sites, and Internet companies have found that even small improvements in Web page responsiveness increases user interaction with their sites. A snappier response is better for everyone.”

He also notes that companies offering online applications such as Zoho and Google can build more features into their applications with faster Javascript. That could make a big difference for many web workers.

Over on the OStatic blog, we got input from AdventNet/Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu on this a while ago. Vembu said: “Being heavily invested in web standards and Javascript, we love the recent announcement of a new JIT-based Javascript VM in Firefox 3.1 and today’s news of Google Chrome. These developments are a huge win for the entire ecosystem of web application developers.”

Zembu also made the point that Flash and Silverlight–which many web users deem to create annoyances–may become less prevalent on the web as faster Javascript performance in browsers marches forward. If you want to know how these next-generation browsers are really going to impact the performance of applications you use online, check out his thoughts.

A couple of other things I want to throw in here are that it’s nice to see two open source browsers leading the way in innovation among browsers. In my opinion, browser innovation isn’t at the level it should be.  Also, with all the talk about Google Chrome, very few people have noted that it is built on much of the same open source code base as Firefox. Google also contributes tens of millions of dollars every year to Mozilla for development of Firefox.

The fact that these browsers share much of the same code base may also make it easier for the huge community of Firefox extension builders to reinvent their extensions for Chrome. In turn, as Mozilla and Google work on transforming their browsers to mobile versions, that could mean solid mobile browsers with useful extensions, instead of the terrible mobile browsers we have now. There are many reasons why users should expect cross-platform mobile implementations of Chrome, as discussed here. Mozilla is already out with the alpha of Fennec, its mobile version of Firefox, which we discussed here.

These two open source browsers are going to duke it out in ways similar to what I’ve described here, working from much of the same code base. That competition is good for us all.

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