The Return of the Browser Wars? Firefox Quantum vs. Chrome

Posted by Scott Fitzpatrick in Cross Browser TestingSoftware Development & Testing

Throughout the mid-to-late 1990s, the entirety of the 2000s, and even into the 2010s, web browsers have competed vehemently for the majority of market share. However, as the 2010s have progressed, Google Chrome has established dominance in the browser market and staked its claim to an estimated 55% of the market share across all platforms, as reported by StatCounter in November 2017.

But change is afoot. November 2017 also marked the release of the new Firefox browser from Mozilla. They have dubbed the browser Firefox Quantum, and they are hoping it helps to close the gap in market share between Firefox and Google Chrome.

Here’s what Firefox Quantum means for the world of browsers, as well as software test engineers who need to be sure that applications run as expected in all browsers.

Firefox Quantum and Its Impact on the Future of Firefox

Firefox Quantum is built for speed. It was developed to give users a better browsing experience by providing a browser with a faster engine than ever before. In fact, that’s where the name Quantum originated. The Project Quantum initiative was announced by Mozilla in October of 2016 as an effort to implement vast improvements to the Firefox browser engine, known as Gecko. Through the improvements to Gecko, Mozilla envisions Firefox becoming one of the fastest browsers on the market, thus attracting more users and dialing up the competition with Google Chrome, and Safari (which thrives on computers using the macOS, and the iPhone).

The browser also comes with a new look, which Mozilla is referring to as Photon. It isn’t hard to tell that Quantum isn’t the same old Firefox browser you are used to. From the outset, the impression left by the new interface is that of a smoother and more polished experience that feels more modern. The rounded browser tab was replaced with a rectangular look, and the color scheme utilized by the browser incorporates darker tones. In some places, it feels like changes were made to specifically point out that the browser is no longer similar to Firefox 56 or earlier.

I am primarily a Google Chrome user myself. But in taking Firefox Quantum for a spin, I did find it to be fast and usable, and from my research into the Quantum project, only one red flag popped up.

That red flag has to do with customizing your Firefox browsing experience. Firefox Quantum features the release of a new framework for developing extensions for the browser. This may mean that some extensions compatible with previous versions of Firefox are no longer compatible moving forward, and need to be rewritten utilizing the new framework. If you are a user of Firefox and use an extension in need of an upgrade, that could be frustrating. However, according to Mozilla, extensions developed with the new framework will be safer and more secure, which is always a good thing.

Increased Browser Competition and the Effects on Application Testing

The release of Firefox Quantum and its potential popularity among users may mean that a greater amount of due diligence will need to be done by those involved in testing webapps to properly vet the web applications they are responsible for testing. This, in fact, is not only limited to the release of Firefox Quantum, but is the result of increased browser competition in general.

Simply put, the more browsers with a reasonable share of the browser marketplace, the more difficult it is to identify which browsers are being employed by users to use your web application. With the increase in unpredictability surrounding the question of which browser the user is using, the features of the web application will need to be tested using more browsers, adding more time and complexity to the testing process.

With this in mind, testing methodologies such as parallel testing may prove to be the most effective in ensuring that all major browsers are supported by your application, and that your tests complete in a timely fashion. In addition, this methodology can help to ensure that the software delivery cycle isn’t slowed despite the need for additional testing to root out any and all bugs that may exist in your webapp.

Conclusion

Significant changes to browsers with the goal of increased competition for share of the market can mean only good things for users everywhere. Healthy competition amongst browsers will ensure that existing browsers will come with improved user experiences in the market share battle. That’s why it is hard to see the development of Firefox Quantum as anything other than a good thing. If Firefox can get back into the game and steal some users from Chrome with promises of faster browsing and a sleeker interface, then Chrome and others will transform as well. This may make the lives of software testers a little more complicated as they find themselves with more ground to cover as the browser user experience evolves, but who doesn’t love a challenge?

Scott Fitzpatrick has over 5 years of experience as a software developer. He has worked with many languages, including Java, ColdFusion, HTML/CSS, JavaScript and SQL.

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