Firefox 4 for PowerPC Macs: TenFourFox

Mozilla hit me with a double whammy of “your hardware sucks” last week, when they released major new versions of Firefox 4 and mobile Firefox 4 for Android (the first!) … but left me out of both parties.

My Android phone, the LG Optimus S, is only a few months old, but its ARMv6 processor isn’t supported. There’s a faint glimmer of hope there, but with the ARMv6 test builds already pulled, I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, the stock Android browser and Opera Mobile are both great (Opera’s font rendering needs work in the hinting/character spacing department, but that’s it).

Meanwhile, my Powerbook G4 is still running happily along on OS X 10.4 Tiger, so I was happy to find the answer to my Firefox 4 woes in TenFourFox, a Firefox fork with builds optimized for various G5, G4 and G3 processors. Here’s a mini-review of my impressions after a week, and a look at what’s coming up in browser-land for those of us clinging proudly to the last generation of PowerPC Macintosh computers.

Introducing TenFourFox

First, let me point out that TenFourFox is a free, open-source project, and one unbacked by the deep pockets of the Mozilla Foundation and their Googlebucks, so let me thank the developer for this volunteer effort.

The good news is, TenFourFox is a big upgrade over Firefox 3. (So if you’re a Firefox user, check it out!) The two major complaints I have — UI tearing and crashes — are both caused by Adobe’s badly aging, abandonware Flash plugin for PowerPC. These are long-acknowledged issues, and the plan (partly forced because of upstream changes to Firefox) is to preference all plugins off by default in the 4.1 version.

Also, I have to say, the name is terrible. I’d love SilverFox, tolerate OlderFox, and, honestly, even prefer the mocked IceWeasel.

Other than that, it’s all good news, and getting better in the short term. TenFourFox’s JavaScript performance tested 3x faster than Safari or Opera 10 on my Mac, thanks to a custom PPC-native JIT (see graph on the homepage for full breakdown). All my Firefox 4-compatible extensions upgraded and worked flawlessly. Browser rendering and passes with flying colors. All of this, despite a number of not-insignificant architectural changes under the hood to be Tiger-compatible.

Coming soon is AltiVec-accelerated WebM video, and it’s looking good so far for TenFourFox to be able to keep up with Firefox’s new “rapid-release” schedule through at least the fully awesome Firefox 5 this summer.

What’s left for PowerPC Macs?

There are still a couple of decent browser alternatives for the PPC faithful. Opera 10 is only six months old, and it’s easily the next-best (or the best, if you’re a fan of Opera features like Opera Unite, syncing and long-beloved mouse gestures) and supports WebM and other emerging standards. Unfortunately, with the recent release of Opera 11, it joins Safari as abandonware for the PowerPC platform. Safari on PPC (along with its WebKit-bundling brethren iCab and OmniWeb) is usable at the moment, and it’s my browser du jour, but it’s in maintenance mode and goodies like WebKit2 aren’t in its future for PPC.

I’ve long been a fan and user of Camino, but it’s always badly lagged Firefox in terms of updating the underlying Gecko rendering engine. Version 2.1, due later this year, will bring it up to parity with Firefox 3.6, but with the end of Mozilla support for embedding Gecko, that’ll almost certainly be the end of Camino on PPC Macs.

Long-term, all of these abandoned products will grow even more out of date and — even for those who can do without new features or support for new web standards — insecure as well. Already, Flash is a problem no matter what browser you use.

Even TenFourFox expects to face serious challenges building a browser from the Mozilla codebase as soon as later this year, depending on how quickly Mozilla drops support for old APIs like Carbon. But, the developer is looking well ahead, and hopes at minimum to backport security fixes going forward.

So, I encourage you to take a look at TenFourFox. If it isn’t already the best browser for PowerPC Macintosh, it soon will be.

We all know the end is coming for our Power Macs — you know, the day when you either realize you’re part of an old-computer cult like Amiga and 68k Mac fans, dump MacOS for PPC Linux, or just break down and buy a shiny new Mac — but that doesn’t mean they have to go before their time is up.

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  • Hilarious:

    “…the day when you either realize you’re part of an old-computer cult like Amiga and 68k Mac..”

    took me many years to overcome my Commodore abandonment issues. Laughing while downloading tenfourfox hoping it has in it the same bugs as the actual firefox 4 so I can fix a website cart which has been screwed by 4’s buggy way of handling forms.