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Screaming fast Mozilla browser Minefield gives a glimpse of Firefox's future

Jason Clarke
I was really disappointed when Google released their Chrome web browser for Windows only. When it comes to browsers, I've tried them all. Right now I regularly switch between Firefox and the latest nightly build from Webkit (essentially Safari). Firefox has the extensibility I rely on, while Webkit has the performance I crave. I had hoped that Chrome would magically combine those two crucial traits and become my new go-to browser. Unfortunately, Chrome is not yet nearly as extensible as Firefox, and isn't available for Mac (yet).

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon the latest experimental Firefox build from Mozilla, called Minefield. This Minefield should not be confused with the unofficial optimized builds of Firefox that Brett wrote about, which are also referred to as Minefield. Minefield is Mozilla's code-name for this generation of Firefox, and the code name is used for unofficial builds to avoid infringing upon the Firefox name.

So, what's so special about the Mozilla Minefield build? It's fast... smokin' fast. This is essentially a version of Firefox with the new TraceMonkey JavaScript engine under the hood, and as Ars Technica reports, it tests even faster than Google's V8 JavaScript engine.

As most Mac users have noted, Firefox is kind of pokey on the Mac platform, particularly compared with WebKit or even Safari, and even when compared with Firefox on a similarly spec'd Windows machine. Version 3 of Firefox was supposed to fix the performance problem, and while it's somewhat better, it's still not great.

Well, Minefield is great. Using Gmail or even a complex content management system is a breath of fresh air. I feel like my web apps are finally keeping up with me.

There's one caveat, and it's a big one: though the current version number is 3.1b2pre (the "b" denoting beta status), this is really alpha software. That means there will be bugs, and you will experience problems. Surprisingly, though, Minefield has been very stable in my testing -- not yet crashing in a full day of testing. I have restarted it a couple of times due to suspicion that something strange was going on, but I can't say for sure if it was.

If you use it with your regular Firefox profile rather than creating a new one, Minefield will complain that most of your extensions are not compatible. Using Nightly Tester Tools, I re-enabled all of the extensions that it disabled, and every single one of them appears to be working normally, even the complicated ones like Better Gmail 2 and TabMixPlus.

I've only had a problem with one site so far, but unfortunately it's a big one: Google Docs. The page simply won't load. But for now, I'm willing to open WebKit or Camino to edit my Google Docs, because I'm just too smitten with the raw speed that Minefield offers.

One last note: being a nightly build, you will likely find that new versions are available, well, nightly. Mozilla makes the process of upgrading to the latest version virtually painless by using the built-in version monitoring process that Firefox uses.

[via Ubuntu Unleashed]