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A Huge Speed Boost Is on the Way to Firefox for Android

A new interface could reduce startup times from several seconds to just fractions of a second on some phones, Mozilla says.

If there's one thing browser users can't get enough of, it's speed, and Mozilla has just announced that it's working on a change to the Android version of Firefox that will deliver a huge surge of just that.

Specifically, Mozilla has decided to build future versions of Firefox for Android with a native user interface rather than the XUL implementation it's been using until now. XUL, or XML User Interface Language, is an XML-based markup language developed by Mozilla.

Mozilla expects a native user interface to use less memory, offer better responsiveness, and be much faster than the XUL-based version.

'Fractions of a Second'

"A native UI can be presented much faster than a XUL based UI, since it can happen in parallel with Gecko startup," explained Johnathan Nightingale, Mozilla's director of Firefox engineering, in a message on a Mozilla developer discussion group on Friday. Gecko is the rendering engine used by most Mozilla applications.

The result of that capability, Nightingale added, is that startup times will be measured "in fractions of a second, versus several seconds for a XUL UI on some phones."

Regarding responsiveness, meanwhile, a native interface could dramatically improve panning and zooming performance, he said.

The new interface project is already under way, but Nightingale said it's still too early to predict which version of Firefox for Android will be the first to sport the new interface. Firefox 8 and 9 will ship with the current XUL-based user interface, including the version for tablets, he noted.

A Strategy for Add-Ons

The prospect of a faster Firefox on Android phones is certainly exciting, but Mozilla has yet to iron out an accompanying strategy for the makers of add-ons, which are a big part of many users' Firefox experience.

Nightingale's team is currently working with the add-on software development kit (SDK) team to figure out the best way to support extensions in light of the new interface, he noted, as well as making plans to ensure that versions of the software for other languages don't get left behind.

A more detailed agenda will be created next week, Nightingale said. In the meantime, if you've been frustrated by speed or other interface issues in the current versions of Firefox for Android, you've got some big improvements to look forward to in the not-too-distant future.


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