Posted by: reformedmusings | September 28, 2008

Browser JavaScript War – Users Win!

I wrote about Google Chrome here and here. One of Chrome’s claims to fame is its V8 JavaScript implementation. It’s fast…very fast. I remarked in the previous post that the Mozilla team should consider it for Firefox 3.1. Well, it turns out that Mozilla already had a better plan. It’s called TraceMonkey.

While Google had V8 written from scratch, Mozilla turned to optimization of their existing code for speed. The latter produces quick code by eliminating extraneous code snippets and unnecessary execution steps. Brendan at Mozilla blogged about TraceMonkey’s approach and speed relative to Firefox 3.0x on his blog. The SunSpider benchmark shows huge gains in TraceMonkey’s speed. Brendan also explains the geeky details of what they are doing on that page. It’s all open source, so the details are available for all to see. It’s a great read if you’re interested in the coding.

Better yet, Brendan ran those same benchmarks against Chrome’s V8 engine and reported the results here. Overall, TraceMonkey beat V8 by about 20%. That’s impressive. Competition is good for users, even in open source. Remember that Chrome was not designed for general web browsing, but rather to run remote web applications. So, they will be taking a different approach than TraceMonkey, which is designed for Firefox’s web browsing. Firefox will handle things like ad blocking that Chrome will probably never see.

I’ve grown to be a big fan of Firefox and its system of extensions. Even the latest and deadliest web exploit, clickjacking, can be stopped with the Firefox extension NoScript. If you’re using Internet Explorer or Chrome, you’re vulnerable.

OK, as an aside, I obviously don’t run Internet Explorer under Linux (although I could), but I do have to work with it at the church. Every time I do, I’m amazed at how dated it seems. That’s true even for IE 8 on a virtual machine. You are so vulnerable to a hose of exploits, ads scream at you from the screen, and JavaScripts and Flash displays will have their way with you. (Yes, you can turn off JavaScript support, but then you have to go through all the menus to turn it on and off for your online banking, etc.) As I explained in my post on my recommended Firefox extensions, security under Firefox can be tight and tailorable. The choice is yours, not some empire’s programmer on a distant coast. After all, it’s your private data that’s at stake.

It will be great to see how the friendly competition between TraceMonkey and V8 shakes out. Whoever comes out on top of the speed game at any given moment, we users are the overall winners. I can’t wait for Firefox 3.1’s release.

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