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Why Firefox 3.0 Beta Looks Like a Major Improvement

It took about four years of research and development, but it looks like the Mozilla developers have finally plugged most of the memory leaks that were irritating some users of the Firefox browser.

Browsers, to be sure, are I/O and memory suckers. They do a heck of a lot of very fast work scouring the Internet so we can find the information or entertainment we're seeking. Browsers and e-mail are two of the truly "killer apps" in using the Internet, and we should never take them for granted, although it's easy to do.

That being said, Firefox--in The Station's eyes a far superior browser to Internet Explorer, for a list of reasons--has always had this one nagging problem: memory hoarding. As the user opens one tab at a time, Firefox subsequently opens the necessary amount of RAM and virtual memory needed to do the task, which is what it is supposed to do.

The problem was, Firefox took its time giving that RAM and virtual memory back to the user, so it could be used for other applications. Most times, Firefox hoarded that memory and didn't give it back--even after the browser was shut down.

Now all users aren't necessarily going to notice this, especially those with newer, faster machines with a lot of horsepower. The Station is about to invest in a new desktop and a new laptop this year, but in the meantime, we're working with an 8-year-old Hewlett-Packard Vectra that is like an old tank, but still reliable; and a couple of 5- and 6-year-old IBM Thinkpad laptops.

Not everybody has hot, fast new computers. In fact, studies have shown that people tend to keep their hardware for as long as they can, to get full value for it. And if it continues to work well enough, well ... what's wrong with that?

Anyway, Mozilla is now beta testing its Firefox 3 Beta 5 browser, and we have to say that it sure looks like they've fixed the memory leaks. Hallelujah! From the Firefox release notes:

"Memory usage: Several new technologies work together to reduce the amount of memory used by Firefox 3 over a Web browsing session. Memory cycles are broken and collected by an automated cycle collector, a new memory allocator reduces fragmentation, hundreds of leaks have been fixed, and caching strategies have been tuned."

The Station likes to think he had a small role in all of this. Back in 2004, at the first Open Source Business Conference in Burlingame, Calif., I brought this topic up to a couple of Mozilla engineers, who expressed no knowledge about the memory leak.

"This is first we've heard about this. Have you filed a bug fix on this yet?" one of them said.


"Well, I'll take a note on this and see what we can do. Thanks, appreciate it." And that was that.

That was in the early days of Firefox 1.0. Firefox 2.0x is currently the standard. But Firefox 3.0--this is the real deal. We are amazed at how much faster and smoother, it runs--using much less RAM. No more skyrocketing memory numbers in the Task Manager and hesitating applications.

Now, we're sure we were not the only one that brought this to Mozilla's attention. But it's nice to see good things getting accomplished, no matter whose idea it is.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...