In a Sept. 7 blog post, Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's director of Firefox, said the new update to the latest beta of the company's popular open-source browser takes advantage of the built-in graphics hardware in Windows computers with DirectX 10 to improve performance on graphics-heavy Websites.
"On supported hardware, Firefox will use Direct2D by default to speed up the display of content on graphically intensive Websites, giving more power to the Web," Beltzner said.
In a separate post, Bas Schouten, a Mozilla developer who works on the Firefox graphics engine, said: "Usually when we talk about hardware acceleration we mean using the graphics card of your computer to accelerate certain graphical operations. Nowadays the graphics cards in most people's computers have an immense amount of computational power, often many times more than the normal processor. This computational power is very specialized and cannot just be used for anything. It's most commonly used for video games, but obviously as web browsers use more and more graphical effects, we want to use it inside Firefox as well!"
Schouten describes Direct2D as a rendering system part of the DirectX package that is shipped with Windows. "It was introduced in Windows 7 and ported back to Windows Vista in the Vista Platform Update," he said. "It allows us to access the hardware with a simple 2D graphics drawing API for all Mozilla drawing code, allowing hardware acceleration for a very large number of scenarios."
Meanwhile, Beltzner said a new audio API exposes the raw audio data housed within the <video> and <audio> elements in HTML5; developers can use the API to build add-ons that will completely redefine how users experience sound on the Web.
"Until now, people haven't had the ability to interact with sound on the Web in all the creative ways that video and images allow," Beltzner said in his post. "Firefox 4 Beta introduces a new audio API to expose the raw audio data housed within the <video> and <audio> elements in HTML5 to redefine how people experience sound on the Web. With this new API, developers can read and write raw audio data within the browser, presenting audio information in completely new ways that could allow, for example, for people to visually experience a speech or a song through Firefox."
In addition, with this latest update of Firefox 4 Beta, the browser now supports the HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) protocol for additional security, enabling sites to automatically direct the browser to an encrypted connection, Beltzner said.
"HSTS is a new security protocol in Firefox 4 Beta that allows websites to insist that Firefox always use secured connections," Beltzner said. "Firefox 4 Beta now remembers what sites use the HSTS protocol and will only connect to those sites using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) in the future, helping to prevent 'man in the middle' attacks."