The next-next generation of the Mozilla Foundation's popular web browser - Firefox 3.7 - is set to get a significant speed boost on Windows systems thanks to Direct2D support.

First unveiled on programmer Bas Schouten's blog - via PC Pro - the news comes just days after Microsoft claimed that Internet Explorer 9 would support the acceleration technology as a way of improving its lacklustre performance when compared to rival browsers.

This plan appears to be coming unstuck, with Schouten declaring that his team members at Mozilla "are now able to present a Firefox browser completely rendered using Direct2D," which offloads the work of rendering the actual browser UI as well as page content onto a compatible graphics card.

The results of the experiment are convincing: while certain text-heavy sites such as Wikipedia.org and Slashdot.org didn't benefit from a great deal of improvement, sites including Facebook and Twitter were rendered in less than half the time on the Direct2D enabled build of Firefox 3.7.

As well as improvements in actual page display times, Schouten believes that Direct2D offers the potential for a smoother user experience with "extremely smooth graphical experiences for web-content like SVG or transformed CSS" as well as improved framerates when resizing images via GDI. Perhaps most importantly, Direct2D promises truly smooth scrolling - the most obvious improvement to the user experience.

For those wanting to try out the Direct2D-enabled Firefox 3.7 alpha - and who are running Windows 7 or an updated copy of Windows Vista along with a DirectX10-compatible graphics card with WDDM 1.0 driver - you can download it immediately. The usual caveats about relying on alpha-grade software apply, and sadly this is Windows-only.

Are you pleased to see more work being done to utilise the power of the GPU outside of games, or does the improvement in drawing times - measured in milliseconds - fail to live up to expectations? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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