What's in the latest Firefox update? Support for in-browser VR, among other things

Mozilla's Firefox 55 lets users tweak multi-process performance and takes another step nearer to kicking out Flash.

Mozilla Firefox headquarters
Magdalena Petrova/IDG

Mozilla today released Firefox 55 for Windows, macOS and Linux, debuting options to tweak the browser's performance settings, adding support for the WebVR virtual reality standard and taking a major first step toward dispatching Flash to the Great Software Beyond.

Firefox, which can be downloaded here, updates in the background, so most users need only relaunch the browser to get the latest version. To manually update, click the help icon -- the question mark within a circle -- after pulling up the menu under the three horizontal bars at the upper right. Choose "About Firefox." The ensuing page shows that the browser is either up to date or displays the updating process.

Mozilla updates Firefox every six to eight weeks; the last time it upgraded the browser, to version 54, was June 13, or eight weeks ago.

New performance settings

Most users will likely find the new performance settings the most utilitarian of the feature updates. Building on Firefox 54, which used up to four processes to run the browser's tabs, this week's version lets individuals adjust that number, to as few as one process or as many as eight. The more processes assigned to tab content, the faster each will draw. The downside: The more processes, the more memory used by the browser.

The new setting can be found at "Options" (Windows) or "Preferences" (macOS) under the menu accessed from the three horizontal bars at the upper right. Uncheck the "Use recommended performance settings" box in the "Performance" section.

Support for WebVR

Other additions, improvements and enhancements in Firefox 55 include support for WebVR (Windows only), the virtual reality-in-a-browser API (application programming interface) that originated at Mozilla but is also supported by rivals including Google (Chrome) and Microsoft (Edge). Firefox 55 also made click-to-run the default for Flash Player, a previously-announced step toward the eventual demise of the plug-in at the end of 2020; boasted a faster start-up time when restoring large numbers of tabs from the previous session; and let users select a search engine on the fly after typing a string into the address bar.

Mozilla patched 28 security vulnerabilities in the just-released version, five of them marked "Critical," the firm's highest ranking.

Firefox accounted for 12.3% of all browsers that personal computer users ran last month, a small increase from June and a 52% jump from July 2016, when the application seemed to be on the verge of vanishing.

The next edition, Firefox 56, should reach users Sept. 26, according to the browser's release calendar

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