Firefox 55 is out: Windows users get WebVR, plus more speed, faster launches

Firefox 55 becomes the first desktop browser with WebVR support.

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Firefox 55 lets users adjust the number of processes running from the default of four processes.

Image: Mozilla

Firefox joins Chrome and Microsoft’s Edge in support for WebVR, a concept first dreamed up by developers at Mozilla who wanted to bring virtual reality to the web.

WebVR support on Firefox for Windows arrives in version 55 of the browser released on Tuesday, along with performance improvements, such as faster launching when restoring lots of tabs and more control over the browser’s new multi-process architecture.

Firefox on Windows users can now view VR web content with the aid of an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset, which also work with an experimental build of Chrome on the desktop.

Google’s Daydream and Cardboard work with Chrome on Android, while Microsoft is focusing on the new range of Windows Mixed Reality headsets for Edge on Windows 10, a combination which at present works in developer mode.

As Mozilla developer Nick Nguyen points out, that technically makes Firefox for Windows the first desktop browser to have WebVR support. Like Google with its WebVR Experiments page, Mozilla has a homepage for VR experiences, many of which are made with its HTML-based A-Frame developer tools for VR content creation.

Firefox also gains additional tools for managing the multi-process improvements that have been delivered under the long-running e10s or Project Electrolysis. In General Settings under Options, users can adjust the number of processes running from the default of four processes.

Devices with lots of RAM can bump it up to eight processes, for example. Firefox 54 introduced four processes to help run content efficiently across multiple tabs.

Mozilla has gradually been rolling out this functionality since Firefox 48 when it started with one percent of its user base. To check if the browser has e10s enabled, users can type about :support in the address bar. If the number is higher than 0 in Multiprocess Windows, it is enabled. Mozilla offers more detailed instructions on opting in to e10s.

For those who use loads of tabs, startup times should now be significantly faster than under Firefox 54. Mozilla ran a test with 1,691 tabs open in Firefox 55, which launched in 15 seconds compared with over four minutes in Firefox 54.

Mozilla now ensures that 64-bit Windows users get the 64-bit version of Firefox when they download and reinstall the browser, which it says reduces crashes by 39 percent on machines with 4GB RAM. Soon it will migrate all 64-bit Windows users to its 64-bit browser.

Firefox 55 also introduces click-to-run for Adobe’s soon-to-be unsupported Flash Player plugin. Users need to choose which sites can load the plugin, and can opt to have the browser remember those sites.

Mozilla will gradually bury access to the plugin and in 2021, after Adobe stops updating it, the browser won’t load Flash at all.

Regardless of new features, existing Firefox should update to Firefox 55, which fixes six critical security flaws, 11 high-severity flaws, seven moderate flaws, and six low-severity flaws.

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