Mozilla tries to lock down VR updates with Firefox Quantum

January 17, 20184 Minute Read

The story of internet browsers is the story of revolutions. It's a tale of king browsers being overthrown in spectacular fashion. It all began with the surfing revolution of Netscape, followed by the free surfing revolution of Internet Explorer, followed by the features-revolution of Firefox, followed by the speed revolution of Chrome. That's pretty much where the situation lies to this day: Though it's existed for less than a decade, Chrome controls almost three quarters of the overall browser market.

Now, a series of basic code-base and VR updates to Mozilla's Firefox could change that by sparking the first-ever browser comeback revolution. With the release of Firefox Quantum—tested as the fastest-loading browser ever—Mozilla hopes to regain control on the consumer and business user markets.

There's real reason to think they could succeed, and IT-focused business manages should hope they do, since their success could make important office innovations like online work spaces and VR development easier and more accessible for everyone.

Boost mobile browser stability for business tasks

With Quantum, Mozilla is selling Firefox as the fastest browser on the market, more than twice as fast as Firefox used to be—and the non-profit says it thinks it can double its speed again by the end of 2018. Firefox Quantum is already competitive with Chrome in testing using Speedometer 2.0, so if it gets faster still there should be no question as to the king of speed. Firefox has also adopted a Chrome-like policy of running each tab as its own separate process, capable of failing without affecting the others.

In an office environment, switching to Quantum won't just mean less frustration than prior versions of Firefox. By eliminating innumerable second-long wait times embedded in every online task, it will also allow much greater confidence in the stability of any one important tab. That's especially true for mobile browsing, which has been far slower and more error-prone than desktop browsing.

This is where UX is huge for business solutions: Thanks to a unified code-base and a true multi-platform approach to development, it should finally be possible to trust important business tasks to the speed and stability of a mobile browser. That's not just true to today, but in the future. Office security problems need to be addressed immediately to protect both customers and employees, so any lag in applying new patch updates to a mobile browser will disproportionately affect office workers.

These are precisely the improvements that users, and ITDMs in particular, were clamouring for. Mozilla has certainly listened—and delivered—and office tech managers should take note of the impact that has on its success. Right now, Firefox controls about 12.5 percent of the browser use by some estimates—but since it focused so precisely on what users wanted most (as any tech company should), it could soon enjoy a major comeback in the browser market. Take note of that lesson.

Don't overlook Quantum's VR updates

The speed updates have obviously generated the most press, overall. However, Mozilla has also added another watershed feature to its flagship product: a far more stable implementation of WebVR, the premiere open-source VR API. WebVR is the best current attempt at creating a standardized, headset-agnostic tool-set allowing users to easily run VR programs through a browser, but on most browsers it still encounters frequent bugs and performance drops. By dramatically improving this performance, Mozilla is doubling down on its commitment to the open source software scene.

By focusing on WebVR implementation, Quantum could become the standard development platform for VR applications—in particular for the mobile web. If a problem arises on every browser but Quantum, the bug probably lies in the program's interaction with the browser. If the problem arises everywhere including Quantum, it might just be an issue with the VR application itself.

Focus on users is good for developers

This increased WebVR stability is just a side effect of Mozilla's "browser performance strike force" making the whole platform more stable, but it still represents an important evolution for developers. An API created by a more interested party like Google or Samsung would have an interest in creating proprietary code and refusing to support competing headsets, while developers generally just want their creations to be seen as widely as possible.

A platform-agnostic approach is the best way to support those who create and host online services, fulfilling their needs before those of a self-interested browser company. By getting in early, WebVR has set a wide standard that ITDMs will be able to rely on being there for them, and Firefox is the main reason WebVR can be credibly said to have "gotten in early." As a non-profit, Mozilla is better positioned to embrace and empower these sorts of open-source solutions.

Of course, WebVR is still far from perfect. As an open-source solution, it's available to any browser developer that wants to use it. Quantum is a great step forward for browser speed and VR stability, but if Mozilla wants to truly dethrone Chrome in the home, the office, and on mobile, it will have to maintain its commitment to making Firefox the fastest, most stable browser on the planet. ITDMs have all sorts of reasons to opt for the most user-focused, open-source standard out there, but it will be up to Firefox to deliver them the continuing speed and stability they need to actually do it.

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