Most of our interactions with our devices, be it a desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone, happens in the web browser. We practically live in our web browers, something Google’s Chrome OS is trying to exploit. So when browser become slow or, worse, crash, it can be an infuriating experience. Google Chrome has tried to address that problem by running each tab on a different process. Firefox will be doing something similar yet also different. Starting version 53, it will be running its “Quantum Compositor” on a separate process, ensuring not just faster performance but also stability.
A compositor is basically a program that takes a bunch of visual items, be it images, text, or even user interface, and combines them into the one image that you see on screen. It is almost similar to how image editors like Photoshop flatten several layers into one. As such, the compositor’s speed and stability greatly affects the performance of a web browser.
As the compositor is basically a graphics processing program, it makes more sense to run it on the graphics processor rather than on the general-purpose CPU. This is exactly what the new Quantum Compositor does in Firefox 53, to make rendering web pages faster. That also has the effect that the compositor is running on a different software process from the rest of the browser. That means that in case that the compositor crashes, it won’t take down the whole browser, or even the current tab, along with it.
The Quantum Compositor is just one part of Mozilla’s new Project Quantum. Announced October last year, it is an attempt to develop a next-generation web browser engine for Firefox. In the past, Firefox’s Gecko engine has been considered one of the best rendering engines there is but has largely been overtaken by WebKit and Chrome. Mozilla has since then been trying to make up for lost time and opportunity.
Firefox 53 also brings other features to the table, both on desktop and mobile. There are new compact themes that try to maximize the screen’s real estate, as well as light and dark themes to give your eyes a break. The browser now also asks for permission for websites that try to access your device’s sensors, like location.