Mozilla has released Firefox 3.6.6, an incremental update which tweaks the way the browser handles misbehaving plug-ins, giving Flash and other plug-ins 45 seconds to respond, or else get shut down.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Firefox 3.6.4 was released. It included a new Crash Protection feature that keeps plug-ins like Flash and Silverlight isolated into separate processes. If a plug-in hangs or crashes, it won’t cause the entire browser to crash with it. Firefox only lets the plug-in remain unresponsive for 10 seconds, then it shuts the process down. (This feature is only available in the Windows and Linux version of Firefox, Mac users will have to wait for a future update).
Firefox 3.6.6 extends the amount of time Firefox will wait before terminating unresponsive plug-ins. Mozilla upped the limit to 45 seconds. Apparently, the 10-second timeout limit proved too short for many users — Flash routinely hangs for more than 10 seconds without crashing.
Isolating plug-ins is actually just the beginning. Mozilla’s larger plan is to apply “out-of-process” handling, as the more general feature is known, to all add-ons and even tabs, making Firefox considerably more stable. Once that feature is enabled, each web app would be cordoned off inside its own tab. If one page or app crashes, that single tab simply closes and the rest of the browser keeps cooking along as usual.
Isolated tabs won’t arrive until Firefox 4, which is slated for later this year.
This feature was popularized by Google Chrome, and it’s now being added into other browsers. It also started becoming a standard feature across browsers just as Flash began feeling the renewed heat over performance issues. Even though Adobe recently released a new version of its Flash Player software specifically to address many of these issues, it remains under scrutiny thanks to Apple’s decision to ban Flash from the iPad, and its campaign to get web developers to build rich apps using web standards instead of Flash.
Firefox 3.6.6 was released over the weekend, and it should be an automatic update. If your copy of Firefox hasn’t automatically applied it yet, you can force Firefox to update using the “Check for Updates” menu item, or head to the Mozilla downloads page and grab the latest version.
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By Scott Gilbertson