What’s New in Firefox 9.0

Craig Buckler

Firefox 9.0 is out? Seriously? I suppose it’s been six weeks since version 8.0 was released on November 8, 2011. If you’ve not received an automatic update yet, select Help > About Firefox and hit the Check for Updates button. If all else fails, head over to getfirefox.com and download it manually.

The add-on compatibility issue appears to have improved significantly. None of my extensions were disabled but I can’t promise you’ll have the same experience.

On the surface, little appears to have changed. Mozilla is claiming improved HTML5, CSS and MathML support. They have also published a long list of bug and security fixes to illustrate how busy they’ve been. Mac OS users may notice improved theme integration and two finger swipe navigation but, for the rest of us, the main changes are under the hood…

Improved JavaScript Performance

Mozilla are claiming a 20-30% performance boost for JavaScript in Firefox 9.0. It’s primarily been achieved using Type Inference (TI); a feature in the SpiderMonkey JavaScript engine which analyzes statements and variable values as a program executes to determine types. The information is used during JIT compilation to generate more efficient code.

It’s impressive. While I doubt you’ll experience a 30% speed increase in the wild, the early benchmarks show promise. Mozilla has certainly closed the gap on competitors, if not overtaken them.

New CSS3 font-stretch property

The new font-stretch property selects a normal, condensed, or extended face from a font family:

  • font-stretch: ultra-condensed
  • font-stretch: extra-condensed
  • font-stretch: condensed
  • font-stretch: semi-condensed
  • font-stretch: normal
  • font-stretch: semi-expanded
  • font-stretch: expanded
  • font-stretch: extra-expanded
  • font-stretch: ultra-expanded

Typefaces will only appear differently if you have a specific font type installed. Remember that many fonts don’t offer condensed or expanded types.

Improved CSS3 text-overflow Support

Firefox has supported text-overflow: ellipses since version 7 was released in September. The property shows ‘…’ at the right-most end of a text string which overflows its container.

Firefox 9.0 allows you to truncate either end of the text with a hard clip, ellipses or a custom string. For example, if “12345678” was centered in an element which was too small;

text-overflow: ',' ellipsis;

could result in “,3456…”

For more information, refer to the text-overflow reference at MDN.

A More Promising Future?

Mozilla has been losing ground to Google’s Chrome browser but Firefox 9.0 feels fast, stable and has fewer of the compatibility issues which held back earlier versions.

The organization has also announced a three-year extension to its search partnership with Google. The original deal — worth $100 million per year and 84% of Mozilla’s total revenues — ended earlier this month. Neither company has revealed the financial details; Google is certain to have renegotiated the terms, but it was hardly likely to ignore the preferred browser of one in four web users.

It’s also evident that Mozilla is trying to differentiate itself from the others — view their Firefox 9.0 video. While it’s a stomach-churning set of moralistic cliches (independently spirited people, we value values, we believe in you, etc), it’s true that Mozilla is the only browser vendor without ulterior business motives or commercial interests to protect. The web would be a lesser place without them.

If you’re considering the Firefox 9.0 update, it’s best to do so now. Firefox 10.0 is due on January 31, 2012.