The availability of 64-bit systems to the regular user is fairly recent, even though they started to be developed in the 60′s, based on UNIX architecture. Microsoft released their first 64-bit operative system with Windows XP in 2001, but the true landmark came with Windows Vista. Not only was the OS itself more 64-bit oriented, but computers were also sold with improved components, more oriented to run 64-bit software. Windows 7 also boosted the usage of this computer architecture.
When I got through all the advantages of having a 64-bit operating system, I tried to improve the piece of software I use the most on my PC: my web browser. I’ve been a Firefox lover since my first contact with it, so it was a bit disappointing when I found there is not any 64-bit release of it. However, I found the (almost) perfect solution: Pale Moon, a Firefox clone which offers an improved and optimized version oriented for 64-bit systems.
As a very quick “64-bit 101″, let me say that 64-bit computing uses processors with more space to address information, which also support more RAM to process data. Regarding operating systems, a 64-bit OS is generally faster than a 32-bit one. Even though they have distinct architectures, it is possible to run software designed for 32-bit OS in a 64-bit one, but the opposite is not possible most of the times.
Pale Moon is a free software developed by Moonchild Productions, a collective created by Mr. M.C. Straver (aka Moonchild). It has both 32 and 64-bit versions, as well as a portable version for each. According to Moonchild, the main reason to develop this software was related to the fact that “Windows users were at a disadvantage”:
Having seen the advantages on other systems (e.g. Linux) with regards to programs being compiled specifically for the capabilities of the machine it is installed on, it became obviously clear that Windows users were at a disadvantage: Mozilla only releases Windows executables with maximum compatibility in mind, meaning that Firefox is made to run on as many different systems as possible, sacrificing efficiency and speed in the process to be compatible with, by current standards, absolutely ancient hardware (backwards compatible to the first Pentium processors from 1993).
Which means that, since Firefox is built to fit in multiple Windows systems, it does not reach the speed and efficiency that it could potentially have. This is not a problem exclusive to Firefox, as other well-known web browsers lack 64-bit development as well.
As far as I known, only Internet Explorer has a 64-bit version which actually works fine, but I’m not really an Internet Explorer fan. Mozilla put out for some time a beta version of a 64-bit Firefox (known as “Firefox Nightly Builds”), but it was never given much importance by the company and has recently been dropped for good.
When you visually compare Firefox to Pale Moon, there aren’t many differences to be noted. All the addons and extras work in Pale Moon the exact same way they work in Firefox, which also applies for dictionaries, Personas skins, plugins, you name it.
The key for Pale Moon’s success relies on the fact that it is specifically developed for Windows’ latest versions and novel technologies. With this, there is a better use of the available hardware resources, which results in better performances regarding efficiency and speed. Of course, such improvements cannot be stated as absolute truths, as different results will appear according to different hardware specifications.
From my experience, however, Pale Moon did bring some improvements to my browsing experience: since I usually have lots of tabs opened at the same time (6 to 10), I noticed that Pale Moon responds to this better than Firefox. Honestly I cannot recall the last time that Pale Moon crashed due to the number of tabs opened at the same time, something that was quite recurring in my time with Firefox. Some crashes and breaks do occur, mainly because of plugins.
Just like Firefox, Pale Moon also has a “Plugin Container”, a process executed alongside it that has to do with an innovation developed by Mozilla: all the plugins you install run on a separate process other than the browser itself. This is a quite handy feature, since whenever one of those plugins crash or gets buggy, the whole browser will not crash as well. It can be memory-consuming, depending on the plugins you run on the browser (such as Adobe Flash).
Pale Moon updates do not follow the same cadence as the ones released for Firefox. According to Moonchild, Pale Moon programming must be thoroughly tested before being handed out, only absorbing the upgrades he finds relevant. Moonchild also aims to only release stable versions of Pale Moon, reason why he refuses to ever release some kind of “beta” version.
Despite all the expectations I had regarding performance improvements, this project has gained my respect since day one because of the effort put into it. Moonchild could just rip off the code on every single Firefox release, change its name and publish it as Pale Moon, but that is not the case. He also does not dive into the “updating frenzy” and only upgrades what he finds convenient and important, putting a lot of thought and effort in every single release.
With Pale Moon I got a slight improvement in my browser’s performance, specially when I have lots of tabs opened at once. In truth, I can’t remember to ever find any relevant bugs. Despite the fact that I use 64-bit settings and that was the main reason to write this article, I believe 32-bit users should also try it, given that Pale Moon has a specific “Windows-optimization” that could bring improvements for those users as well.
In short, for all Firefox users willing to get a performance improvement, or for anyone using other browser but willing to take a shot, go ahead and try Pale Moon, letting me know about your experiences with it.