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Mozilla Technology

Minefield Shows the (Really) Fast Future of Firefox 412

Posted by timothy
from the zipping-right-along dept.
zootropole writes "If you are using Firefox 3 (or even Chrome) you should consider taking a look at Mozilla's Minefield. This browser (alpha version yet, but stable) would give a new meaning to 'fast browsing experience.' Some Firefox extensions aren't supported, but riding the fastest javascript engine on the planet definitely worth a try. Minefield's install won't affect your Firefox, so there's no risk trying it. It's fast. Really. And I'm loving it." Reviews popping up around the web are overwhelmingly positive, calling the upcoming browser crazy fast, blisteringly fast, etc.
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Minefield Shows the (Really) Fast Future of Firefox

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  • by PenguinBob (1208204) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:26AM (#25540207)
    These are the nightly builds, once they like how the nightly builds work, they will release them as a "Firefox" update.
  • by MiKM (752717) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:28AM (#25540229)
    "Minefield" is just the development codename for the 3.1 series.
  • by Bert64 (520050) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:28AM (#25540233) Homepage

    They will, it's an early beta and is therefore considered unstable...
    Today's nightly for mac crashes on http://www.pentestmonkey.net/jsbm/index.html [pentestmonkey.net] which is a javascript benchmark, i was trying to see if it really is as fast as the article claims... Currently the webkit nightlies seem to be the fastest on this benchmark, by quite some considerable margin.

  • by Millennium (2451) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:31AM (#25540273) Homepage

    If it is that much better, why arent they just replacing Firefox with it??

    They will, though it will be called Firefox when that happens. "Minefield" is just the code name for Firefox 3 nightlies, and it's called that for a reason: as a developer-intended build, it's prone to blowing up.

    It will be released when it is ready. That time isn't yet.

  • by gwking (869658) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:32AM (#25540281)
    Minefield isn't very different from FF at all.... because Minefield *is* Firefox. The main development code is called Minefield. At different points they branch the code off to become the versions of Firefox that we all know.

    So they branched Minefield several months ago to become Firefox 3.0 but continued work on Minefield and now a new branch from Minefield will become Firefox 3.1.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:32AM (#25540283)
    From the last time this happened [mozillazine.org]:

    "That's ok," you say: "I link directly to ftp.mozilla.org!" That can be even worse! Killing the project's FTP server does not help anyone, least of all people trying to obtain Firefox builds. And it makes for a grumpy IT group. And nobody wants grumpy IT groups. Especially a day before a release.

  • by Joe Tie. (567096) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:32AM (#25540289)
    It has the potential to be, at least for interpreting javascript. The gui still feels a lot more sluggish though, and general rendering still seems quite a bit slower as well. Just remember to do the about:config thing, then search for jit, and turn the two options on to get the speed boost.
  • Jupp, (Score:2, Informative)

    by Rhabarber (1020311) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:35AM (#25540341)
    its fast, its stable, my extensions work ;)

    Especially Zotero (SVN) rocks !!!
  • Re:Minefield? (Score:5, Informative)

    by michaelhood (667393) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:38AM (#25540373)

    What the hell kind of codename is that? Maybe an attempt at 'truth in advertising'?

    That's exactly what it is. Minefield always refers to the current alpha-release of the upcoming "major" release.

    Don't use it unless you know what you're doing. Suggesting end-users use this, without briefing them on why it will crash [frequently], is irresponsible at best and does a disservice to the alternate browser movement.

  • by Shados (741919) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:43AM (#25540431)

    You won't see a difference because pages are designed for slow browsers (IE6/7, FF2, etc). So they don't tap into the power of javascript as much as they could be, for performance reasons. You'll see the difference in a fully client side (aside for json REST service calls) javascript app made in ExtJS or similar toolkits (there's a few). Then performance matters.

  • by LSD-OBS (183415) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:45AM (#25540457)

    Of course, you have to enable the TraceMonkey JIT JavaScript compiler before you'll see any reasonable speed increase (in theory). Just go to about:config, search for the 2 items with "JIT" in their name, and enable them.

    My stress tests have shown it to be 10-50% faster than Chrome *when* JIT works. However, it's still buggy as hell, it eats its own memory heap and grinds to inexplicable halts kinda randomly whenever my code does anything repetitive and strenuous, bringing the average execution speed down to almost FF2 levels, meaning it's faster for me to leave JIT disabled. It's a no-go for me until they fix that.

  • by Shin-LaC (1333529) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:45AM (#25540461)
    People are talking as if Chrome's V8 was the fastest JavaScript engine around, but it wasn't - WebKit's SquirrelFish Extreme was faster [slashdot.org]. Is Minefield's engine even faster? Ars Technica's tests [arstechnica.com] show that TraceMonkey runs the SunSpider benchmark in between 78% and 84% of V8's time. However, according to earlier tests [blogspot.com], SquirelFish Extreme completes the benchmark in 74% of V8's time, making it even faster than the newest TraceMonkey. So it looks like Minefield, though fast, is not the fastest browser in JavaScript.
  • by kbrosnan (880121) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:51AM (#25540527) Homepage
    No it is the name for the unstable trunk, Shiretoko is the code name for Firefox 3.
  • by kbrosnan (880121) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:52AM (#25540539) Homepage
    err 3.1
  • by jalefkowit (101585) <jason@@@jasonlefkowitz...net> on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:52AM (#25540545) Homepage

    People. There is A REASON why Mozilla calls these builds "Minefield" rather than "Firefox".

    It's because they're not ready for daily use.

    They may be faster than the released version of Firefox, but they also may contain major, showstopping bugs, up to and including bugs that can cause data loss.

    The only people who should be using them are people who understand this risk and are willing to accept it -- i.e. testers.

    Anyone promoting these builds for use by the general public is being irresponsible and exposing anyone who takes their advice to risk.

    TFA is bad enough, but it's worse to see major sites like Slashdot parroting this bad advice. You should be telling your friends to avoid Minefield, not to seek it out.

  • by jalefkowit (101585) <jason@@@jasonlefkowitz...net> on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:01AM (#25540677) Homepage

    I don't think anyone is encouraging the masses to use a nightly.

    Yes they are. This whole "use Minefield, it's fast!!!!1!" meme is being spread by blog posts like this irresponsible post from CNet [cnet.com]:

    Feeling brave? Or simply feeling like your browser is too slow? Give Minefield a try. It's a separate install so it won't affect an existing Firefox install. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

    And this [wirememe.com]:

    Firefox Minefield, a pre-release alpha version of the Firefox browser blows the speed limits out of the park making Google Chrome looks like a Toyota Prius against a Ferrari.

    These articles generally include a token warning that Minefield is alpha code, but they seem to think of "alpha" in the Google sense of "try this, you might like it", rather than the more traditional sense of "dangerous, don't use unless you know what you're doing".

  • by Shin-LaC (1333529) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:08AM (#25540755)

    But has the JIT code been implemented for PPC?

    No. They seem to be planning to have PPC support eventually, but work is in very early stages [mozilla.org].

  • by jalefkowit (101585) <jason@@@jasonlefkowitz...net> on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:11AM (#25540779) Homepage

    You got lucky.

    A nightly build is exactly what it says it is -- a snapshot of the codebase as of a given day.

    Some nightly builds may be completely bug free. Others may be chock full of major dataloss bugs. It's a crapshoot.

    Your friends may be fine today, but if they decide to "update Minefield" on the wrong day in the future, they're gonna get screwed.

    That's why I call it irresponsible.

  • Re:This is a step up (Score:5, Informative)

    by happyDave (155169) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:12AM (#25540793) Journal

    Please remember that if you messed with minefield "a few months back" then its been through dozens of iterations since then. It's a nightly build.

  • by X0563511 (793323) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:13AM (#25540801) Homepage Journal

    It's a codename for the Firefox development branch. Nothing will ever be released with that name, it's a moving target that gets branched out to Firefox for release.

    Reading FTW!

  • by Ash-Fox (726320) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:14AM (#25540811)

    All these years people in the Unixy world gave Microsoft a ton of crap for VB, and now, after all this time, they've come up with something arguably worse... javascript, and now, a javascript compiler.

    Javascript was not created by the opensource community (it was created by Brendan Eich and ended up becoming part of Netscape, which was not open source at the time). Additionally, Javascript has reasonable structures that don't deteriorate when the software expands to large sizes.

    Check out Synchronet [synchro.net], it has IRC servers, NNTP servers, Gopher servers etc. all written in javascript. The code is completely readable (generally not the case with VB when the code reaches that complexity) and cross-platform.

    There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Javascript language, like there is in visual basic.

  • startup time (Score:2, Informative)

    by tarscher (1000260) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:27AM (#25540957) Homepage
    Someone cheched the startup time of FF3.1 ? Compared to Chrome FF 3.0 takes ages.
  • by hraefn (627340) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:31AM (#25541009) Homepage

    The browser war heated up when Google (and others?) started paying out on ad revenue created by in-browser searches. Apple makes some nice change on Safari. So does the Mozilla Foundation, apparently [clickz.com].

    There would be very little competition if there wasn't money to be made.

  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:40AM (#25541111)
    Actually, that's a Jerry Pournelle quote about AT&T, and it was "Hot Dead Chicken".
  • mod parent up (Score:5, Informative)

    by Metaphorically (841874) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:41AM (#25541121) Homepage
    ffs. This story has been making the rounds about "Firefox Minefield" being an awesome browser. Well the next release of Firefox may be awesome, but this is a nightly build that was given the name Minefield so people might get the idea that, as the parent pointed out, it's unstable.
  • by beelsebob (529313) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:46AM (#25541187)

    I don't even understand the hype about it being fast. It's *really* slow compared to for example the latest WebKit nightly, here's the benchmarks on my machine:

    Sunspider:
    FF3.0.3: 2697.2ms
    Minefield (jit enabled): 1412.4ms
    WebKit: 680.6ms

    V8 bench:
    FF3.0.3 - 199 runs
    Minefield (jit enabled): FAIL (brings up printer dialog rather than actually running javascript)
    WebKit: 2342 runs

    ACID 3:
    FF3.0.3 - 71 and significant laggyness
    Minefield (jit enabled): 89 with only a little jitteryness
    WebKit: 100 totally smooth.

  • Re:Jupp, (Score:3, Informative)

    by Metaphorically (841874) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:49AM (#25541223) Homepage

    No, it's not stable. It's a nightly build. Nightlies can have major changes that will destroy data and corrupt your profile. When it comes to the Release Candidate stage then there shouldn't be any destructive bugs left.

    "Minefield" isn't a new browser, as has been repeatedly mentioned here. It's the tag given to nightly builds of Firefox so that people will know it's not stable.

  • by homer_s (799572) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:59AM (#25541341)
    And what's amazing, and completely against capitalism, none of these web browser makers are charging any money for their products! All this great software is being developed and given away for free!

    Capitalism and free markets are about the free exchange of goods and ideas, with the people involved in the exchange (and only them) setting the terms of the exchange.
    Whether the terms of the exchange involve money or not does not have much to do with the idea of free exchange.
  • by maxume (22995) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:02AM (#25541379)

    Presumably, the people who do user support.

  • by LarsG (31008) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:07AM (#25541445) Journal

    They will replace the current FFox with what is in Minefield - when it is ready.

    https://wiki.mozilla.org/ReleaseRoadmap [mozilla.org]

    Minefield is just the code-name for the trunk. You see, during development new stuff is submitted to the main branch - the trunk. This is where big changes like a new javascript engine or big changes to the html rendering engine happens.

    You can download Minefield today to take a look at what is currently on the main trunk. But this code is often under heavy development and has not gone through all the testing/fixing that an official release gets. That's why they call it Minefield, it can and will blow up now and then.

    When the current trunk has all the features one wants for the next version of FFox, they do a branch. They then do stability / security fixes etc on this branch (but no big new features). From his branch you then get the FFox betas/release-candidates and then eventually the shiny new FFox 4 (or 3.5 or whatever they'll call it).

  • by tomd123 (1007793) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:12AM (#25541509)
    Cause we all like benchmarks.... Here is a breakdown of some browsers' times: (all were freshly installed and used http://celtickane.com/webdesign/jsspeed.php [celtickane.com] for tests) minefield 3.1b2: ~193ms chrome 0.2.149.30: ~234ms opera 9.61: ~203ms internet explorer 7: ~2328ms safari 3.1.2: ~203ms These were all done on the same computer.. this is why we have competition kids..
  • by Ascoo (447329) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:17AM (#25541573)

    Which is why one should only use ECMAScipt.. No more confusion. Unfortunately, more people rather just use the Javascript sublanguage (is that even a word? Maybe dialect?).

  • by mad.frog (525085) <steven@@@crinklink...com> on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:18AM (#25541595)

    PowerPC is being added to the Nanojit (backend for Tracemonkey and Tamarin).

    Help is welcomed. Hop onto #tamarin for pointers.

  • by eulernet (1132389) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:27AM (#25541755)

    Link to nightly Webkit: http://nightly.webkit.org/ [webkit.org]

  • by Kadagan AU (638260) <kadagan @ g m a i l . c om> on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:50AM (#25542143) Journal
    I just now tested it on that site:

    MD5 Benchmark took 1.188 seconds for 3000 hashes (2525 hashes/second)
    MD4 Benchmark took 0.839 seconds for 2700 hashes (3218 hashes/second)
    SHA1 Benchmark took 1.201 seconds for 1900 hashes (1582 hashes/second)


    I also tested SRware Iron (A variant of Chrome) on the site, and scored significantly higher:

    MD5 Benchmark took 0.343 seconds for 3000 hashes (8746 hashes/second)
    MD4 Benchmark took 0.232 seconds for 2700 hashes (11638 hashes/second)
    SHA1 Benchmark took 0.299 seconds for 1900 hashes (6355 hashes/second)
  • by Osvaldo Doederlein (34220) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:53AM (#25542179) Homepage

    These benchmark results are a bit debatable - I've seen different suites electing different "winners" and, while SunSpider seems to be the best, it's a long way from a robust benchmark like SPEC* or DaCapo.

    In any event, even if SFX is leading the pack right now, that's because it's the most mature competitor, and its advantage won't last too long. I predict (and I write this logged with my account, not AC, so I would be forever glorified when this becomes true in 12 months max) that both V8 and TraceMonkey will take the lead, leaving SFX in a safe third place permanently.

    The reason is very simple. All these new JS VMs are JIT compilers, producing native code. But SFX is a context threaded JIT [ualberta.ca]. Context threading is just a step beyond traditional direct-threaded interpreters: functions are 'compiled' into streams of CALLs into routines that implement each bytecode operation, but there is limited inlining (simple operations and branches), with a focus on reducing branch misprediction.

    OTOH, both V8 and TraceMonkey are "real compilers" that emit real native code (not CALL streams) for entire functions (or even larger chunks of code, with inlining). This is necessary to enable traditional optimizations like register allocation, instruction scheduling, constant folding, loop unrolling etc. Some of these optimizations can be performed on a high-level intermediate code representation (HIR), but that's typically not worth the effort without real compilation. E.g., loop unrolling will just waste memory an i-cache efficiency if performed by a threaded interpreter/JIT... as the real benefit of unrolling is giving the compiler a much larger basic block to perform other opts like extra folding and bounds-check elimination, or real low-level tricks like exploring using SIMD registers and operations / Instruction-Level Parallelism / prefetching / branch predication etc.

    The only reason why V8 and TraceMonkey don't completely 0wn the benchmarks today, is that these JITs are still in their infancy. They have implemented the foundations (like V8's hidden classes or TM's tracing), but they still miss to implement dozens of important optimizations (including very easy ones - they just didn't have the time yet). Check some comments about V8's limitations [google.com]. TM's developers have also commented on many limitations, quote (Andreas Gal: "If it talks to the DOM during the benchmark, we currently donâ(TM)t compile across such calls (we plan to for Beta2 though)". This and several other improvements are planned for future builds of Firefox 3.1 [mozilla.org]. Notice that items like special support for DOM interactions and event handlers should be critical to some benchmarks - and of course to real-world RIA apps. I'm sure the V8 hackers are also working around the clock to fill in their own gaps. When both VMs are reasonably mature, SFX will have a VERY hard time competing (unless of course, they abandon the context threading model and mutate into a real compiler). Other optimizations, like JITted regex, can be implemented in all VMs and will eventually be ubiquitous.

  • by drodal (1285636) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @12:11PM (#25542463) Homepage
    My results confirm yours
    Minefield
    MD5 Benchmark took 0.71 seconds for 3000 hashes (4225 hashes/second)
    MD4 Benchmark took 0.446 seconds for 2700 hashes (6054 hashes/second)
    SHA1 Benchmark took 0.721 seconds for 1900 hashes (2635 hashes/second)

    Chrome
    MD5 Benchmark took 0.411 seconds for 3000 hashes (7299 hashes/second)
    MD4 Benchmark took 0.162 seconds for 2700 hashes (16667 hashes/second)
    SHA1 Benchmark took 0.18 seconds for 1900 hashes (10556 hashes/second)

    and just to laugh IE 7
    MD5 Benchmark took 3.885 seconds for 3000 hashes (772 hashes/second)
    MD4 Benchmark took 12.473 seconds for 2700 hashes (216 hashes/second)
    SHA1 Benchmark took 3.838 seconds for 1900 hashes (495 hashes/second)

    All running on Vista with a Intel Core 2 Duo E4600 @ 2.4 GHz

  • by Atzanteol (99067) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @12:22PM (#25542631) Homepage
    Yes, there are worse things [mozilla.org] that can happen than a few crashes:

    The new Firefox Windows installer - for a custom install location - put the Firefox files into the top level of my d:\Program Files directory. I did not want this, so I uninstalled it from the Windows Control Panel Uninstall applet. It did not uninstall so I logged in as adminstrator and then ran the uninstall. THe unintall took a long time with lots of disk activity. At the end of it, about 2/3 of the folders in Program Files had been deleted. I lost dozens of applications, many of them requiring serial numbers to reinstall, and all the associated configuration, etc. Included in the carnage were two other Mozilla installations and my Thunderbird 0.4 installation, and Winzip which of course I needed to unzip replacements. Don't use nightly builds unless you actually understand the possible consequences. And for FSM's sake don't suggest it to others!

  • Re:SVG too (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @12:28PM (#25542767)

    SVG absolutely rocks.
    Opera demo'd awhile back how a few lines of inline SVG can be used to give you a perfectly smooth gradient background.

    SVG isnt just an laternative to flash, it could be an alternative to *a lot* of linked images in webpages, and really speed up the whole internet because of it.

    Of course though, IE...even IE8, stubbornly dosnt want any part of SVG. (SVG plugins are next to useless as they slow and *overlay* the svg)

    I wouldnt be supprised if Microsoft has had an Adobe bribe not to support SVG frankly.

  • by cyfer2000 (548592) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @12:42PM (#25543047) Journal
    The printer dialog bug has been fixed. https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=456384 [mozilla.org]

    I think the hype is that in the latest nightly builds, apparently you are not using, the JIT has been turned on by default.

  • by BZ (40346) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @01:00PM (#25543353)

    The problem with that bug is that the Xorg graphics performance stuff... sucks. A lot. A lot of rendering is actually faster done entirely in software than trying to go through X's "accelerated" stuff. Some of this is due to Render shipping stone-age versions of pixman and actually doing its own software rasterization when you'd think it would use your graphics hardware.

    And best of all, the response of the Xorg developers to all this is "once we finish our new acceleration architecture in a few years, all this should be better". They've said it for quite a while now, with at least 2 different acceleration architectures.

    So yes, Mozilla does give "a flying ...." about Linux, but that doesn't help much in this situation.

  • by humina (603463) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @01:05PM (#25543431) Homepage

    I got a 93 on my ACID3 test with the latest nightly so I'm wondering where you got your numbers. Are you sure that you have the latest minefield?

    See: http://acid3.acidtests.org/ [acidtests.org]

  • Re:Ooops (Score:3, Informative)

    by TopSpin (753) * on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @01:18PM (#25543685) Journal

    When it installs it must piggyback off the main firefox profile

    That's exactly what happens. When the brilliant zootropole says:

    Minefield's install won't affect your Firefox, so there's no risk trying it

    ...he's means only that unpacking the nightly build archive won't replace your existing Firefox binaries. Running it, however, will immediately step all over your default Firefox profile. I guess zootropole doesn't give a damn when he misleads people.

    The safe procedure:

    1. Shut down FF. (yeah I know it can be done without shutting down, stfukthx)
    2. Run your existing FF from the command line like so

    firefox -profilemanager

    3. Create a new profile (MyFF31profile, whatever) in the profile manager.
    4. Run FF31 like so

    /path/to/nightly/firefox -P MyFF31profile -no-remote

    The above will isolate FF31 to a distinct profile, on *nix. Windows? My sympathies, no help here.

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