Only a short time ago, we had to wait over a year for a major new release of any web browser. Often longer. There was a huge gap between Firefox 3 and Firefox 4, with many alphas, betas and numerous release candidates. That was before Google changed the game with Chrome, with rapid releases, quickly switching between stable, beta, dev and Canary.

Recently, Mozilla decided to change the way they would release a new version of Firefox, somewhat mimicking the Chrome release schedule. You can now download a stable version of Firefox, currently v7, while v8 beta, v9 Aurora and even v10 of Nightly, Firefox's canary build, will also be available to try for adventurous users.

On the surface, there's little to differentiate Firefox 7 from previous releases, but nothing could be further from the truth. You'll instantly notice how quickly it starts, the speed at which web pages appear on the page and how more responsive it generally feels. This is all down to major changes to the way the program's memory management is handled.

Previous versions were rather wasteful when it came to resource management, but version 7 changes all of that, reducing memory usage by up to 50 per cent and promising an end to the memory leaks that saw the program's memory consumption increase, even when the program was left idling in the background.

You no longer need to shut down and restart Firefox to free up memory either - simply reducing the number of open tabs will have the desired effect, thanks to a more aggressive Javascript garbage collector. Windows users will also benefit from improved graphics performance on compatible pages with a new component called Azure.

Other changes include dropping http:// from the awesome bar and painting the sub-domain element of a URL in lighter grey, while Firefox Sync has been tweaked to process password and bookmark changes that bit quicker.


The changes may not be immediately obvious, but vastly improved performance makes Firefox 7 both an essential update and worth revisiting if you're frustrated with your current browser.