Mozilla promises a next-gen Firefox engine that will deliver huge improvements

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Mozilla’s Firefox chief promised massive leaps in the web browser’s performance via “Project Quantum,” an entirely new web engine that will power Firefox beginning in 2017.

Quantum, according to David Bryant, the head of platform engineering at Mozilla, will take full advantage of modern PC and mobile hardware, exploiting parallelism to run processes across multiple cores and the GPU. Quantum will be the code at the core of the browser, responsible for its overall performance.

“We are striving for performance gains from Quantum that will be so noticeable that your entire web experience will feel different,” Bryant wrote in a blog post. “Pages will load faster, and scrolling will be silky smooth. Animations and interactive apps will respond instantly, and be able to handle more intensive content while holding consistent frame rates. And the content most important to you will automatically get the highest priority, focusing processing power where you need it the most.”

Why this matters: Bold words, certainly. But necessary, given that Firefox’s user base has been gently waning for months—down from almost 12 percent in 2014 to 6.36 percent in September—as rival browsers pick off users with new features. Obviously, web performance is dependent on several factors—total and available bandwidth, other tasks running on the PC, and so on—but a snappy web experience is worth it, no matter who the browser vendor is.

Under the hood: Electrolysis, Gecko, and Rust

Mozilla has already begun pushing out a multi-process browsing experience to some Firefox users over the past few months, known as Electrolysis. Electrolysis, however, is a security-oriented approach, designed to isolate processes and prevent them from crashing or compromising the browser. Quantum will extend that approach and deliver performance benefits, Bryant wrote, both for traditional browsing as well as for web apps.

Quantum “starts with” Gecko, the traditional web engine that has powered Firefox since 2003, and replaces major engine components that will benefit most from parallelization, or from offloading to the GPU, Bryant wrote.  It will also incorporate parts of Servo, an independent, community-based web engine sponsored by Mozilla, he added. A number of components are also written in Rust, a systems programming language that Bryant described as “blazing fast.”

Mozilla’s key market is still the PC, and Windows, though Quantum will be added to the Firefox browsers for Android, the Apple Mac, and Linux as well. Eventually, Quantum may come to iOS, though that’s apparently not the priority. The first Quantum code will begin hitting in 2017, Bryant wrote, and its sounds like a fully baked Quantum-powered version of Firefox is due by the end of next year.