Firefox is getting multi-process support. No, seriously, this time it's for real! Only seven years after it was first announced, Mozilla is turning the knobs to enable the Electrolysis multi-process feature in Firefox 48, which is set to be released on August 2.
Firefox developer Asa Dotzler says the change is "the largest [the team has] ever shipped." The rollout will be a gradual one, though. Mozilla will enable Electrolysis for one percent of its users in the Firefox 48 release. Ten days after, the devs will look at the feedback from that release and evaluate whether to turn on Electrolysis on for more people. Asa Dotzler says Mozilla "can slow the roll-out, pause it, or even disable [Electrolysis] for those who got it."
To say that Electrolysis is a much-needed improvement for the Firefox is an understatement. The once-popular browser has seen its market share sharply decline over the years, mostly to the advantage of Google's Chrome browser, which has benefitted from multi-process support for years. StatCounter's 6-month browser market share stats are quite telling: Chrome holds the crown with 56%, followed by Firefox with 14% and the Internet Explorer family at 13%. Firefox's tendency to slow down or completely freeze as soon as any tab comes across a hitch certainly hasn't helped matters over the years.
It's worth noting that certain groups of users people won't be eligible for Electrolysis right off the bat. Users with extensions, those using Windows XP or screen readers, and those whose language is written right-to-left will all have to wait. Extensions in particular are a sticking point: a good number of them need to be updated in order to work with Electrolysis in the first place. The "Are we e10s yet?" site helpfully lists the currently-known status of many extensions.
There's another catch, too: for now, Firefox will only use separate processes for UI and page content. Dotzler says the team will first work on making sure that everyone can use Electrolysis, and only that will look into using multiple content processes. Sandboxing and isolating extensions into their own processes will be last on the Electrolysis shortlist.
Electrolysis has been enabled for a small portion of Firefox Beta users since last December, and for half the Beta users in the past six weeks. Daredevils looking to get in on the fun right now have multiple options: use a bleeding-edge Nightly or Aurora build, and click the appropriate checkbox under the Preferences menu. Beta version users can force Electrolysis on by going to the "about:config" URL, toggling the browser.tabs.remote.autostart option to "on," and restarting Firefox.
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