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Mozilla Announces Quantum, a New Browser Engine For Firefox ( 113

An anonymous reader writes: Mozilla is currently working on a new browser engine called Quantum, which will take parts from the Servo project and create a new core for the Firefox browser. The new engine will replace the aging Gecko, Firefox' current engine. Mozilla hopes to finish the transition to Quantum (as in Quantum Leap) by the end of 2017. The first versions of Quantum will heavily rely on components from Servo, a browser engine that Mozilla has been sponsoring for the past years, and which shipped its first alpha version this June. In the upcoming year, Mozilla will slowly merge Gecko and Servo components with each new release, slowly removing Gecko's ancient code, and leaving Quantum's engine in place.
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Mozilla Announces Quantum, a New Browser Engine For Firefox

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  • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @01:29PM (#53169453)

    Mozilla has a new browser engine, "quantum"

    That gives me solace.

    • So the next browser will be nothing more than a bad sequel?

      • You seem displeased. I guess with some people, The World is Not Enough.
      • Is it that Firefox and GeCko were written with internet speeds of 10megabytes (100megabits) per second, and with new higher speeds being demanded, that much more code has to be written at the C/C++ level, and less as java/javascript interpreter? If I can download a 5 gig file at a gig per second, then I would expect that downloads would be an entire set of pages, rather than small one page at a time of presentation. Perhaps browsers and web designers should plan what each has to do when speeds increase b

    • I'm leaning toward uncertainty, on principle.
  • by somenickname ( 1270442 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @01:32PM (#53169469)

    So, the idea is to replace the working but "ancient" code with stuff that is currently considered alpha quality software? In the next year? For a project the size of Firefox? That certainly doesn't sound like a recipe for success.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The developers are getting bored, just like they did with the perfectly functional and logical "ancient" menu-based interface. Firefox stopped developing for the users around the time they released version 4.0. From the point on, it's been all about the developers. They're developing for themselves, not me, and that's why I no longer have a preference for browsers, and no longer advocate firefox.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You stopped supporting Firefox because they changed the appearance of the menu? That's a strange priority. And the old-style menu is still there, I use it all the time.

      • I am not sure if that is entirely true of Firefox. It is true, however, of the desktop environments that are being pushed for Linux, to wit, Gnome, KDE and Unity. Fortunately, they are not getting any traction.
      • I like Firefox because it's the most customizeable! I put the menu right back where it belongs! And the status bar, square tabs, light-on-dark, etc.

      • Try pressing the ALT key.

    • by pavon ( 30274 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @01:48PM (#53169569)

      The Servo engine as a whole is alpha, and still has a lot of catching up to do to implement an entire modern browser engine. However, some of it's components are more mature than others, and the code that is there is faster and more robust than the old Gecko code. The idea with Quantum is that rather than waiting for an entire brand new engine to be reimplemented from scratch (Servo) they will be keeping most of Gecko and slowly replacing components of it with new code from Servo, doing the necessary work to bring those components to production quality in the process.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by thegarbz ( 1787294 )

      Based on the way Firefox runs, they are replacing alpha quality code with alpha quality code.

      But frankly they can do whatever they want. I abandoned them early this year when their update broke. Not a plugin or anything specific but just everything. Update ran and "Not responding", restart ... "Not responding". Reboot the computer "Not responding". Installed Pale Moon, migrated my profile across and purge that piece of shit from my system.

    • by swalve ( 1980968 )
      Define "working" in this case.
  • why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by thygate ( 1590197 )
    what happened to "don't fix it, if it aint broken" .. what is so bad about the current engine then ?
    • Re:why? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @01:46PM (#53169555) Homepage Journal
      It has a removable battery, and a headphone jack. You can't have those in a modern Web 3.0 Internet of Things Cloud based web browser engine, that's soooo 2015.
    • I am pretty sure that Mozilla is widely considered to be the least secure of all the major web browsers.

      New, of course, doesn't necessarily mean better or even more secure. But the world of web browsers is one area that has changed and continues to evolve rapidly. I can completely understand wanting to scrap it all and start over. That is what MS did with Edge.... arguably it is a better browser than IE, but it is now also incompatible with everything that has gone before.

      I still love Mozilla and will conti

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Really? In what ways is Firefox less secure than Chrome or MSIE/Edge? The latter two cannot even be audited.

        • []

          AFAIK, Firefox only just recently introduced sandboxing in their general release, something which the other browsers have had for a while.

          Honestly, this may just be a perception thing. I just know what I have heard from various people. I am not a security expert by any means.

      • That is what MS did with Edge.... arguably it is a better browser than IE, but it is now also incompatible with everything that has gone before.

        If you mean "incompatible with IE 6.0" then that's a good thing.

        Edge is Microsoft finally starting to support the same standards as the rest of the world.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They're not actually building a new browser engine, much less calling it Quantum. This is an internal project name (project, not product!).

      If I understand correctly, they've been experimenting with Servo [], a browser engine they've built using the Rust [] programming language. Rust aims for speed, concurrency and safety, which is highly desirable but hard to achieve on modern (multi-cpu/multi-core) devices using conventional programming languages.

      Now their plan is to gradually replace bits and pieces of Gecko [] (t

    • by DrXym ( 126579 )
      Firefox is built around a mostly single threaded CPU renderer. Servo tries to push as much rendering and other stuff onto the GPU and uses Rust to enforce concurrency meaning the frame rate is higher and it should be stable too. That said, the web is full of quirky / broken content and that's where the effort goes to ensure the new browser works with the existing content.

      But this isn't a new phenomena. Mozilla / Firefox developed from a project called NGLayout (next generation layout) which was developed

    • don't fix it, if it aint broken

      Sigh they have a lot of work to do then.

    • Re:why? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ghostworks ( 991012 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @06:37PM (#53171923)

      There have been a lot of moving pieces to the Firefox project.
      * First, the code base was meant to be universal, with options to support a range of OSes and hardware. This involves a lot of not-so-sexy problems like word size, address space, endian-ness, etc. that don't come up a lot anymore. It also has it's own home-made (pseudo)thread system, because some of those supported OSes did not have nativemultithread capabilities. Since this is at the base of all code, things higher up have a lot of clunky support code.
      * To make this all work, everything is modular with defined interfaces. This takes more memory, but makes for a more stable yet versatile design.
      * Firefox was meant to be a lightweight version of the Mozilla browser. (Time makes fools of us all.) The idea was that CSS and javascript could be used to build out your UI as if it were a webpage.
      * Building on that, since this chrome layer was never hard-coded anyway, it makes it easy to re-write with extension code. In fact, the extensions can do damn near anything by interfacing with gecko modules directly (or by building their own).

      Now the problems:
      * The Gecko engine is basically functional, but was never designed to do a lot of the goofy crap modern Web API standards are pushing forward. (Web API is basically aiming to make your browser into a universal interface for your entire computer. That way "web apps" have access to all the resources they could possibly need... though, sadly, almost no thought seems to have been given to making it secure.)
      * Gecko is also way too bulky to ever work on a mobile phone, which is how a lot of the web is being consumed now. They had to fork and rewrite code to get out a workable android version.
      * The extensions that did more than change the display meant that you either couldn't change internal interfaces, or that doing so would break everything. The way the chrome code was written meant that changing it would often break theme add-ons. Most of the time this just leads to angry users and people who refuse to update. But it also leads to a lot of bugs filed and support requests that ultimately stem from badly-coded, out-of-date extensions screwing everything up. Mozilla mostly considers this a perception problem, since the browser seems to be more broken because of the extensions.
      * Firefox had a lot of preferences. These could all be edited at runtime, and took up a lot of memory with the properties themselves, and with the branch logic needed to support some of them.
      * Firefox has been very leaky on a per-tab memory basis.

      So where have they been going:
      * legacy OSes and architectures aren't supported. Not enough horsepower to actually make the modern web work on, say, BeOS.
      * Mozilla threads are deprecated in favor of real multithreading done through OS API calls.
      * They've gone to a Google Chrome-like model for extensions, where there's a general extension API. They're open to expanding it however is necessary to get extensions with large market share -- such as NoScript and Firebug -- to work, but at some point we can expect that there are things they just have no interest in adding in.
      * They've been trimming preferences release after release. There's not even anything to turn off javascript now unless you have an extension. (The logic is that the modern web is basically un-digestable without javascript.)

  • Will it have memory leaks? Because I've grown accustomed to memory leaks in Firefox and I'd probably miss them if this new-fangled engine doesn't have them.

    • Servo is written in Rust so, it will have no memory leaks, no security problems and is so fast that even bubble sort can be implemented in O(N).

      • Servo is written in Rust so, it will have no memory leaks, no security problems and is so fast that even bubble sort can be implemented in O(N).

        Will there at least be an add-on that will simulate memory leaks?

      • Actually bubble sort IS O(N) for the particular case of sorting an already sorted list. Which happens more often than you would think it does...

    • by Rufty ( 37223 )

      It will have memory leaks, but if you measure how fast memory leaks you won't be able to tell where the leak is.

      • It will have memory leaks, but if you measure how fast memory leaks you won't be able to tell where the leak is.

        I think that's the engine written in that new language called "Heisenberg". Actually, I'm not sure if it's been written yet or not- it compiles but every time I go to look for the executable it's not there.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      How about CPU leaks? On my machine, firefox starts by using less than 10% CPU when idle, and throughout the course of a day, gradually increases until it's more than 50% CPU. At idle. No, I'm not kidding.

      • This is so true !

        I can throw more memory at the problem to mitigate memory leaks... But whatever CPU I get, CPU leaks will still burn a bit of uranium in my country, cost me a few euros every years, or reduce the time I can use surf on a laptop.

        On a more positive note "about:performance" is a really cool idea against that (but not always effective when tab and add-on is flagged as "perform well" but CPU still leaks)

  • So is this in addition to, or instead of, cloning the Chrome engine?

    As long as it runs every popular existing add-in, I would give it a try. If not, then it will become just another contributor to the death of Mozilla.
    • I think they were only talking about making the extension API's similar to Chrome.... or maybe I am wrong.

      I don't think that Mozilla has ever had or planned to have a Webkit rendering engine.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Not sure their choice of name for the new engine and the project to transition to it was all that well thought out.

    Britons who were alive in the 1980s or just happen to be knowledgeable on the subject of Clive Sinclair's foray into home computers will probably remember the Sinclair QL, or Quantum Leap as it was also known as. This was a machine that was introduced to the public before they had a single working prototype and pushed into production several months before it was ready for that. The result was a

    • But see the upside, the Sinclair QL led to the creation of Linux!

      True story, young Linus Torvalds cut his teeth on coding for the QL. More precisely, he had to write his own software because the QL flopped so hard that it had zero commercial support, and he couldn't afford a new machine.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Friday October 28, 2016 @02:40PM (#53169897)
    They're having a really hard time weaning plugin devs and their users off the old single threaded stuff. My own plugin is going to need a complete and complicated rewrite when they finally force the issue and I'm not sure I'm up to it. I might just move it to Chrome and call it a day...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    There's a bit more info and actual insight here:

  • How did "Quantum Leap" come to mean a large change? I mean, in physics the word "quantum" means "The smallest possible, and therefore indivisible, unit of a given quantity or quantifiable phenomenon." Smallest. Not largest. I suppose some could argue from quantum entanglement and "spooky action at a distance" that large distances can be a play, but quantum entanglement didn't really enter the public's collective conscience until the mid-200s with the quantum teleportation stories and the term "quantum l

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser