At OldVersion.com, one of our most downloaded software titles is Firefox.
With rumors flying around that Firefox could possibly embed video chat in its future versions, it begs the question: are newer versions necessarily better when it comes to this web browser? Do we need Firefox 18.5 with video features and Facebook integration? Isn’t simpler better when it comes to web browsing?
Thus, I decided to embark on an experiential journey to test the progression of version iterations and how it affects system performance. In other words, I wanted to see if Firefox 11.0 runs as well on older computers as older versions do.
I did this on Dell Latitude D830, a fairly old system that has often benefited from running older versions.
Deciding whether there’s real improvement from version to version, whether browsing is becoming faster and easier is difficult. Using older software is a subjective experience that is dependent upon many factors: your individual machine, your preferences for browsing, your nostalgia of older software, your blood type, your wife’s or husbands opinion on the matter, etc.
And then there’s the matter of whether a particular version can even be tested. Version 126.96.36.199 is the last Firefox version one could install and run on a Windows 95 system. On the flip side, version 1.0 (including its subsequent patches) is practically unusable on a Windows 7 machine. On my machine, it crashed quite often, was unable to restore tabs after crashing, and fields didn’t save, such as the 5,000 word essay I typed for an NSF Grant of $1 million.
So, heed the caveat that most of this article doesn’t exactly follow a strict scientific method. It is, instead, a gentle bubble bath in nostalgia, with a little myth-busting scrub-down.
A Brief History:
Wikipedia has a great article on The History of Firefox, which can give you some context on its initial road to release. For the purposes of this article, you can read up on a few Firefox ancestors included in our tests: MozillaSuite 0.9.6, Firefox’s direct ancestor, and Mozilla Phoenix 0.1 (or Firebird), released right before Firefox became the official name for the web browser.
Here’s how all versions of Firefox fared on the same system—-a Dell D830 Latitude laptop running Windows 7 Ultimate, with a 2.2 gHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and 2 GB of memory.
Graphical Conclusion of Tests:
Here’s the straight, numerical answer to how each version of Firefox fared in our single-computer tests. On memory usage, you’ll notice both the initial improvement and drop-off, a relative spike around version 4.0.1, and some fairly consistent performance ever since version 5, with the exception of version 7.01 which is an interesting anomaly in the usage of RAM.
In pure page-rendering time (which, as a reminder, you would want to get slower, and smaller on the graph), Firefox has a hang up on this machine on version 8.01, seeing most optimal rendering time on version 10.0.2.
And Firefox has never been a slouch when it comes to supporting web standards, so its fast ascent up the Acid3 ratings scale makes sense.
|Firefox 4.01 and higher||100/100|
Now you’ve seen how these browser perform on the whole, let’s take a look back at what made each of these versions unique (or, in some cases, uniquely irksome).
MozillaSuite installed flawlessly on my Windows 7 machine. Although this 2001 web browser doesn’t properly render most modern pages, it does offer some fun crashes from time-to-time.
It’s no surprise that there’s really no room for MozillaSuite 0.9.6 in the modern web world of HTML5 and WebGL.
It would be interesting to see how much of the same code was actually used and what parts of it were written from scratch. Feel free to speculate in the comments .
Phoenix 0.1: (September 23, 2002)
For a browser released in 2002, it functions “quite well.”
My favorite feature is the big red stop button next to the yellow refresh next to the address bar.
This browser could be considered the first publicly-released version of the Firefox browser series. Sure, it has a different name, its interface is completely different, but at the same time – it’s exactly the same. Yup.
Firefox didn’t know what to call its new browser at the time. They toyed with the name Firebird (or Phoenix) for a bit and released a few versions under the Firebird name, but complaints from the BIOS based browser Firebird started rolling in and they eventually decided to patent the name “Firefox,” which is actually a Red bear.
Looking at the testing, I still don’t quite understand how Phoenix 0.1 manages to perform better on nearly all fronts then Firefox 1.0. Maybe Phoenix is just a more powerful creature.
Firefox 1.0: (Nov 9, 2004)
Another quirk: Firefox 1.0 scored 37/100 on the Acid3 test. Yes, a full 3 points below the Firebird/Phoenix version!
Although this version works on Windows 95, you’d probably be better off downloading 188.8.131.52 since it will render pages at least a little better then this version.
Firefox 2.0: (Oct 2006)
Firefox 2.0 improved loading on newer-technology intensive sites like facebook.com.
I also managed to load Gmail standard view without too many problems (which 1.0 failed to do).
Firefox 3.0: (June 2008)
Firefox 3.0 seemed to work fine for modern web browsing, despite its 79/100 score on the Acid3 test.
After playing with this version of the browser for a little while, I have to say that it’s probably the earliest usable browser for today’s complex web sites. It seemed to handle the ardous tasks of day-to-day browsing fairly well. It was also the first version I tested that loaded kiva.org as it was meant to be displayed. So if you’re joining me for this nostalgia party, go to kiva.org using Firefox 3.00 and lend out a micro-loan to your favorite Russian entrepreneur (I admit I’m a little biased on the country of choice..)
This is one of our most downloaded versions of Firefox, and, correspondingly, a lot of our visitors report problems with Firefox 4.01. One of the posts on our blog comments relates:
“I’ve been happy with Firefox until now. I’m using version 4.0.1 and came to this site to get 3.6 back. FF4 has issues with slow, freezing performance. A search of similar complaints confirms others are experiencing the same problems. I didn’t like the new UI anyway.”
One thing to consider is that version 3.6.21 is significantly faster than its 3.00 counterpart. If you’re looking to downgrade to an older version, this is by far one of our most popular ones.
Firefox 3.6.12 received 99/100 on the acid3 test. Just 1 point away from perfect!
Firefox 4.* decided to radically redo its interface in Version 4.01. Although it looks fairly minimalist, the statistics for its memory usage proclaim otherwise. Version 4.01 takes 40.5MB of memory to load vs 34.4MB for Version 3.00.
Is the extra memory usage worth it?
Having this new version of Firefox use more memory isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, if you have memory to spare – if it’s being utilized efficiently by the program then that’s great. The true metric for how this web browser works is how fast it is for modern web browsing. Firefox 4.01 indeed is a champion in its page renderings when compared to Firefox 3.00. It loads pages sleeker and faster then its counterpart versions on this 5-year old Dell laptop running Windows 7 (32-bit).
More memory, but faster browsing:
Version 4.01 does load pages faster then 3.00 and as a tradeoff it utilizes a bit more of your system resources. If you have an older computer with not so much available RAM, this tradeoff might not make sense because the extra resources may slow down your computer performance overall and then you might not experience this faster page loading.
Additional privacy clearing features:
Firefox 4.01 allows you to segment how you clear your history. If you only want to delete your browsing history for the past hour or two days, you can do that. While previous versions of Firefox had only one “clear cookies/history” feature, this version allows you to pick apart exactly what history you want clear in an easy-to-use interface.
Firefox 4.01 passes the acid3 test with a score of 100/100.
We simply don’t have enough data to proclaim 4.01 the superior version, but this doesn’t stop our visitors from doing so. Indeed, we’ve had over 1,800 visitors downgrade their Firefox browser to 4.01 in the last month alone.
Being released only two months after Firefox 5, Firefox 6 is the second release in the rapid-development cycle. Once again, our tests showed that 6.01 seemed to use less RAM to perform the same tasks as 5.01. Furthermore, our performance tests showed it surpassing 5.01 and getting close to the performance of 4.01.
One of the changes that Mozilla boasted for Firefox 7 is that it “drastically improves memory handling.” Our tests confirm that it indeed does handle your computer’s available RAM better than the previous versions. Yet its score for the browser speed battle test fell drastically to the previous versions. This is very dependent on your machine – keep in mind, this test was run on a 5-year-old laptop. If you’re running good hardware, version 7.01 of Firefox may perform very well for you.
Firefox 8.01: (November 2011)
Firefox 8 added enhanced support for HTML5 for context menus. Versions 8.01 – 11 were released less than 6 weeks apart each as part of Firefox’s new rapid development cycle. As such, they seem very similar, but tests do show continuous improvements over rendering times with each progressive version. It’s interesting to note that although there were hang-ups with Firefox starting around version 7.01 for this machine, when we start playing around with the most recent versions, performance does seem to increase.
Version 9.01 (December 2011)
Version 9.01 reportedly increased several stability issues. Looked at our page-rendering tests, this page indeed offers the best performance for our testing-machine.
Version 10.0 beta 6 (March 2012)
Interestingly, this rapid-cycle version iteration seems to be working well for Mozilla Firefox. Despite some new versions breaking some add-ons, overall performance of the browser seems to be increasing. One of our Facebook fans, recently posted this on our page:
“Just when I was getting fed up with super slow Firefox 10.something, I find version 11 beta 2 on your website – Thanks it flies.”
As such, it is only fair to come to the conclusion that perhaps older isn’t always better when it comes to Firefox. Despite this, a lot of users with older computers find 3.6.* to work best on their machine.
So we don’t have tests for Firefox 11/12/13 here, but in the comments below, why don’t you tell us what you think of Mozilla’s newest Firefox version?