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As Chrome Inches Ahead, Firefox Slims Down

A new 'diet' could give Mozilla's browser a considerably smaller footprint.

Google's Chrome browser is slowly but surely creeping up on Firefox in terms of market share, according to the latest Net Applications data, but Mozilla continues to tweak and polish Firefox with an ongoing series of new improvements.

The latest effort under way for Firefox is to dramatically shrink the amount of memory it requires, according to Mozilla developer Nicholas Nethercote.

"SpiderMonkey is on a diet," wrote Nethercote in a blog post earlier this week, referring to Firefox's JavaScript engine. "There's an incredible amount of work being done on SpiderMonkey at the moment, and a lot of it will help reduce Firefox's memory consumption."

Indeed, though the changes may not be visible to users until Firefox 11 in several months, those and other related tweaks could result in a RAM footprint for the browser that's only a third of its current size, according to a report on ExtremeTech.

'It's a Big Hairball'

Developers are changing numerous aspects of SpiderMonkey to achieve the desired slimmed-down effect. JSObjects, for instance, which represent objects, are being reduced in size from 40 bytes on 32-bit platforms and 72 bytes on 64-bit platforms to 16 bytes and 32 bytes, respectively, Nethercote explained.

TraceMonkey, meanwhile--which is SpiderMonkey's original just-in-time (JIT) compiler, predating JägerMonkey-- is being retired, he added.

"With the improvements that type inference made to JaegerMonkey, TraceMonkey simply isn't needed any more," Nethercote explained. "Furthermore, it's a big hairball that few if any JS team members will be sad to say goodbye to."

Then there's IonMonkey, SpiderMonkey's third JIT compiler, which is expected to generate code that's both faster and smaller in size.

An Ever-Closer Race

Chrome rose from 16.20 percent of the desktop browser market in September to 17.62 percent in October, Net Applications reported this week, largely at the expense of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which fell from 54.39 to 52.63 percent. Firefox, meanwhile, increased from 22.48 percent in September to just 22.52 percent in October.

Memory consumption is just one of many improvements under way for Firefox, but it's certainly an important one. I'm looking forward to seeing how much of a difference it makes.

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