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Firefox 4 beta 5 finally adds full GPU hardware rendering support for Windows users. Mac users and Windows users alike can also enjoy the new HTML5 audio implementation (pictured here).  (Source: Mozilla via YouTube)
Firefox is gearing up for a final release late this year

Firefox 4 is going to be a critical milestone for Mozilla.  Facing a surging Google Chrome browser and a reinvigorated Internet Explorer, it is critical that Mozilla release a heavy-hitting product, convincing customers that it's still the best solution for their individual browsing needs.

The new browser is now in the home stretch, with the fifth beta airing this week.  The new beta, which you can grab here, packs a number of new features and improvements.  Most significantly, for Windows users it finally delivers a solid, working version of the long-awaited GPU rendering.

Mozilla's new hardware rendering leverages Direct 2D libraries in the DirectX 10 Windows graphics platform to offload the computationally-intensive task of rendering increasingly complex web graphics to the GPU.  That leaves your CPU free to handle scripts or other intensive chores commonly found in your favorite web applications.

A demo can be found here.

Unfortunately for Mozilla, it's not the only browser maker with shiny hardware-rendering incoming.  Microsoft's upcoming Internet Explorer 9 will also feature the technology.  And, of course, Linux and Mac OS X users are left with pedestrian unaccelerated implementations.

The new build also implements the ability for sites to use HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS).  This protocol is an even stricter security protocol than HTTPS.  It forces users to only be able to connect to the site via SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), preventing so-called "man-in-the-middle" attacks.  For the layman, this boils down to that your information will be more secure on sites that utilize this new feature.

For developers, the latest build also packs a a new audio API which allows websites to read and write raw audio data within the browser.  The API works with HTML5's <audio> tags.  Currently, decoders for WebM and Ogg codecs are included.  Mozilla did not mention support for some other common formats like MP3, but its possible they have been included or will be.

Another demo can be found here.

The GPU rendering and audio may blend together beautiful for music visualization apps or online sound editing applications, which are computationally intensive for both the sound and the video.

Mozilla will have one more beta -- Firefox 4 Beta 6 -- before its November 2010 launch.  The final beta will likely land sometime next month.  Users who have installed previous Firefox 4 betas can just wait until their browser prompts them to install the latest version -- as Firefox periodically automatically checks for and suggest updates.



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DirectX?!
By danobrega on 9/8/2010 12:08:42 PM , Rating: 3
I wonder why did they go for DirectX instead of OpenGL. For a multi platform browser OpenGL seems to make more sense. Anyone knows?




RE: DirectX?!
By omnicronx on 9/8/2010 12:22:56 PM , Rating: 3
My guess would be performance.. I've tested gpu acceleration in IE9/Chrome7dev and now FF and the IE and FF implementations seem to be better, although its hard to tell right now with the limited examples out there..

Thats most likely because FF/IE9 are using DX11's Direct2D API(which was designed specifically for this kind of thing) whereas google is talking an OpenGL ES approach for all platforms, but on windows there is a layer in between that will transform the calls to DX9. (http://code.google.com/p/angleproject/ )

In the end I think Google is taking the best approach here, start it off with technology that pretty much anyone has OpenGLES 2.0 or DX9 compatible GPU, and build from there. Obviously this also gives them the crossplatform advantage too. (not to mention the fact that the core gpu acceleration engine will be the same on any platform, the only difference is the transformation layer in between if needed.


RE: DirectX?!
By B3an on 9/10/2010 6:44:35 PM , Rating: 2
I'd rather they used DirectX/D2D on Windows for the better performance. 90%+ of computers users should not have to deal with the inferior performance of the OpenGL/ES implementations because a small portion of people have chosen to use less capable OS'es, atleast with OSX anyway.


RE: DirectX?!
By CvP on 9/8/10, Rating: 0
RE: DirectX?!
By omnicronx on 9/8/2010 1:38:29 PM , Rating: 1
um.. Google?


RE: DirectX?!
By CvP on 9/8/10, Rating: 0
RE: DirectX?!
By Akrovah on 9/8/2010 4:53:56 PM , Rating: 5
Since Google doesn't seem to be an acceptable answer to you, how about John Carmack? Last I checked even the newest engine he is leading for Rage is still using OpenGL for graphics, and if he follows suite from IdTech4 will be using OpenAL for audio.

And He is not exaclty an idiot.


RE: DirectX?!
By smitty3268 on 9/9/2010 4:16:17 AM , Rating: 4
A couple of reasons -

1. OpenGL is primarily a 3D API and is poorly suited for the 2D acceleration Firefox needs. The same is true of Direct3D, which is why Microsoft created Direct2D - it's an easier fit.

2. Intel GPUs on Windows don't support OpenGL, and that's the largest marketshare in terms of browsers. Games might be able to ignore Intel, but Firefox can't. So they'd have to create a compatibility layer first, (which is being done by google and WebGL), and that would further slow things down.

3. They actually are implementing an OpenGL backend as well, it's just not as far along currently because of #1 above and because they're focusing developers on Windows first since it has the largest Firefox marketshare.


Font rendering
By GoodBytes on 9/8/2010 10:59:54 AM , Rating: 1
I don't know about you guys, but the font in Firefox is now all weird. It makes it a bit harder to read long text on the web. My guess, is that because they use the GPU now, they don't use Windows built-in engine, so they need to make their font match the one of the current Windows.

I find the font in Firefox very thin, like if ClearType was badly configured (note: everywhere in Windows it's perfect).




RE: Font rendering
By omnicronx on 9/8/2010 11:36:12 AM , Rating: 3
GPU acceleration should have nothing to do with the font being used.


RE: Font rendering
By ChronoReverse on 9/8/2010 12:36:06 PM , Rating: 2
However in this case it's font rendering that's off and the gpu acceleration has everything to do with it.

It's actually an issue with D2D itself rather than Firefox (I believe the D2D accelerated mode of Visual Studio has the same issue) and I had hoped they'd find a workaround before enabling it by default


RE: Font rendering
By B3an on 9/10/2010 6:36:19 PM , Rating: 2
He didn't mean the font, even though it was badly worded.

He meant text, and text with both FF4 Beta 5 and IE9 with GPU acceleration display text that is more blurred/heavily anti-aliased.

With large fonts/text it looks better, with smaller text it's harder to read.


RE: Font rendering
By Jedi2155 on 9/8/2010 11:38:24 AM , Rating: 3
I just installed the beta and noticed that ClearType was off on my copy although it probably did import some settings from Firefox 3. In either case check your settings in about:config (type it in the address bar) and I would suggest taking a gander at all the gfx settings.


RE: Font rendering
By hechacker1 on 9/8/2010 7:42:41 PM , Rating: 3
Actually, Firefox 4 will be utilizing DirectWrite:

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd368038(v...

http://forums.mozillazine.org/viewtopic.php?t=1775...

Which in theory gives better font rendering by being more accurate, and doing more anti-aliasing and sub-pixel positioning.

Unfortunately it's an acquired taste much like ClearType is today. Personally, I like it, but it is a bit lighter on my monitor than just plain ClearType.


RE: Font rendering
By Shawn on 9/8/2010 11:02:39 PM , Rating: 2
Possible to disable? Very annoying.


GPU acceleration
By semo on 9/8/2010 11:56:59 AM , Rating: 2
I wonder which GPUs will be fully supported by FF and if there will be cases where GPU acceleration actually slows things down (could happen with 1st gen technologies...)




RE: GPU acceleration
By smitty3268 on 9/9/2010 4:18:55 AM , Rating: 2
D2D acceleration is only activated in Firefox if you have a D3D10 GPU. If you're running a DX9 GPU then Windows has to emulate certain Direct2D operations on the CPU which can slow things down.


Learn how to use the new Audio API
By F1LT3R on 9/8/2010 6:55:36 PM , Rating: 2
Firefox's Audio Data API lets you read and write data to and from the audio element with JavaScript in Firefox 4. Meaning you can use Math to generate sound or detect beats and pitches. If you want to learn how to get started with the Firefox interactive audio API, you can watch these 2-minute video tutorials...

Reading Audio in JavaScript
http://weblog.bocoup.com/read-html5-audio-data-wit...

Writing Audio from JavaScript
http://weblog.bocoup.com/generate-sound-with-javas...




Multi threading/process?
By shabby on 9/8/2010 10:45:06 PM , Rating: 2
So is ff4 finally going to be multi thread/process capable like chrome?




Still disappointed
By bug77 on 9/8/10, Rating: -1
RE: Still disappointed
By omnicronx on 9/8/2010 12:00:27 PM , Rating: 2
Yes because focusing on the operating system that accounts for 90% of the market makes it a gimmick.

Seriously.. Take your head out of the sand and stop trying to validate your choice of OS.

I'm pretty sure Chrome 7 is taking a different approach and their gpu acceleration will support Direct3D and OpenGL.. Not sure when it will be implemented in other OS's (may be already), but at least it will work on more than one platform.


RE: Still disappointed
By bug77 on 9/8/2010 2:18:11 PM , Rating: 2
Vista and 7 don't account for 90% of the market. And those are the only supported OSes. Because apparently in 2010 you can't have 2D acceleration with anything less than DirectX 10.

Plus, it's pretty much irrelevant, FF4 doesn't score any better in Peacekeeper with acceleration enabled.


RE: Still disappointed
By ChronoReverse on 9/8/2010 2:24:53 PM , Rating: 2
Since Peacekeeper only tests javascript that's hardly surprising.


RE: Still disappointed
By bug77 on 9/8/2010 4:34:45 PM , Rating: 2
I know the canvas tests don't matter, but it's still doing some drawing with the bouncing ball and water-like ripples.


RE: Still disappointed
By omnicronx on 9/8/2010 2:33:46 PM , Rating: 2
They still account for around 40%, which is still 10 times more than any other single OS.

Its also fairly obvious you don't know what you are talking about. 2D acceleration is hardly new to Windows (say hello to GDI).

Direct2D is merely a new and far more advanced API.. GDI is ancient and in no way or form takes advantage of todays graphics cards in the way that Direct2D does. (which is most likely why it was used in IE9 and FF)


RE: Still disappointed
By bug77 on 9/8/2010 4:51:39 PM , Rating: 2
Which part of what I said makes me clueless? The feature is a Vista/7 exclusive.

Anyway, my point is not about Windows vs the world. It's about developers wasting time on niche features, while the browser loses marketshare because it has become the slowest of the bunch. It's slow at Javascript and it's painfully slow to start after a cold boot. It also doesn't isolate tabs yet, but I don't recall ever having a catastrophic crash anyway.

Also, a more nimble engine would enable Mozilla to actually take off in the mobile market, which is booming. And Fennec is still unusable even if it's almost at version 2.0.


RE: Still disappointed
By bug77 on 9/8/2010 4:58:08 PM , Rating: 2
Ha, spoke too soon. After doing some more digging, it seems there's also acceleration for Linux:
http://hacks.mozilla.org/2010/09/hardware-accelera...

But my other points are still standing.


RE: Still disappointed
By StevoLincolnite on 9/8/2010 10:45:11 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
It's about developers wasting time on niche features, while the browser loses marketshare because it has become the slowest of the bunch.


If it's such a Niche' feature, then why are you complaining?

Regarding browser speed, I have never had a problem.
I have a Phenom 2 x6 1090T clocked at 4ghz, 8gb of ram, a couple of SSD's as the boot/windows/application drive, and all browsers thus pretty much feel the same on my end.

If the browser doesn't suit your needs, there is... I dunno... A heap of other browsers you could use? (Welcome to competition where you have choice!)
To me Firefox's strong points is with the extensions/plug-ins, it's always been that way in my eyes.


RE: Still disappointed
By Pjotr on 9/9/2010 4:22:24 AM , Rating: 2
As of August 2010, the OS market share is:

* Windows XP 61 %
* Windows 7 16 %
* Windows Vista 14 %

Not sure how 14 + 16 is 10 times higher than 61? The FF4 D2D rendering caters for a minority of the market, ignoring the biggest OS by far.

http://www.netmarketshare.com/operating-system-mar...


RE: Still disappointed
By eskimospy on 9/8/2010 2:36:04 PM , Rating: 3
Right, but depending on what numbers you use together they account for anywhere from 30-40% of the market, and that share is growing extremely rapidly. (win 7 has gone from ~10% to ~20% share in the last 6 months) DX10 capable machines will be the dominant platform within a year or so, and so developing for them makes perfect sense.


RE: Still disappointed
By eskimospy on 9/8/2010 12:14:56 PM , Rating: 4
Not immediately catering to operating systems with tiny market shares does not make features a gimmick, it makes the developer smart enough to recognize what OS is the most important.

I'm sure that they will implement GPU acceleration in their Mac/Linux versions in the reasonably near future, but honestly as a Mac (or Linux) user, aren't you used to having 3rd party software that is a version behind?


RE: Still disappointed
By smitty3268 on 9/9/2010 4:23:23 AM , Rating: 1
FYI, Jagermonkey: http://nightly.mozilla.org/js-preview.html

It's planned to be part of the next beta in a couple of weeks.

Status update: http://www.bailopan.net/blog/?p=768


RE: Still disappointed
By bug77 on 9/9/2010 7:23:28 AM , Rating: 2
It's been in that state forever. Almost there, but there's more work to be done. Meanwhile, Chrome and Opera have become twice as fast as FF4beta in Peacekeeper.

The really sad part is that today we are no longer talking about Mozilla innovating, but catching-up instead.


RE: Still disappointed
By smitty3268 on 9/9/2010 1:11:55 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
It's been in that state forever. Almost there, but there's more work to be done.

Wrong. Jagermonkey was always scheduled to be merged back on 9/1/2010, right from the very beginning, in order to get there by the scheduled code freeze for the next beta coming tomorrow. More recently, it's been said that code freeze might be delayed for about a week to make sure everything is ready. So you might be able to say that Jagermonkey is a week late, but no more.

quote:
The really sad part is that today we are no longer talking about Mozilla innovating, but catching-up instead.

They certainly need to catch up performance wise, but there's a lot of innovation in FF4. Tab candy? Audio API? etc.


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