Mozilla Minefield: Yes, It’s Fast. Really Fast.

There’s been some talk around the blogosphere about Mozilla Minefield, the superfast and super cool-sounding browser by the folks who bring us Firefox. I decided to give it a whirl and see what it was really about.

Meet Minefield

Minefield, for anyone who may not be familiar with it, is not a secret new Firefox alternative under development. It’s basically just Mozilla’s testing ground for its pre-alpha nightly builds of future browser ideas. I spoke with a Mozilla rep today who told me that we can expect to see a future Firefox version “branch off” of what’s in Minefield now. Since Firefox 3.1 is already in its first beta, the Minefield concepts could likely branch into the second beta, though I was told some could also be held for a future version (Firefox 3.2, Firefox 4.0 — anyone’s guess).

Need For Speed

So, onto the browser: As you may have heard, it is fast. Really fast. After downloading it, you do have to manually enable its souped-up Javascript engine to reap the full benefits (type “about:config” into the address bar, find the “javascript.options.jit.content” line, and click it to toggle it to “true”). Once that happens, though, you will be blown away. One user said it made his “DSL Internet feel like a T1 line,” and it’s not too much of an exaggeration. I found the difference to be extremely noticeable.

With that being said, was it significantly faster than the latest Firefox 3.1 beta with the same Javascript engine activated? That’s debatable. Minefield seemed speedy, no doubt, but I’d say they’re in the same ballpark.

Pre-Release Problems

Like any pre-release software, Minefield isn’t without its issues. While I personally have had no problems thus far, some users report occasional crashes and site compatibility concerns. That’s the risk you take, particularly with a pre-alpha build that changes sometimes multiple times within a single day.

What I did encounter were woes related to plug-in compatibility — common programs such as Better Gmail, BugMeNot, even Greasemonkey didn’t want to work. With that being said, though, I’m told the Nightly Tester extension can essentially solve this.

There have also been some questions surrounding conflicts with existing Firefox installations. Again, I personally did not run into these issues; I’ve toggled back and forth between my old version and Minefield without trouble. With that being said, Minefield does use the same profile as your regular Firefox program, so there is certainly the potential for a conflict. It’s wise to make a profile backup before moving forward with an install.

The Minefield Experience

On the whole, experimenting with Minefield has proven to be a positive experience for me. If you’re interested in getting a glimpse into Mozilla’s future development and trying its latest and (theoretically) greatest stuff, it’s worth giving a go. And, as an added plus, seeing that logo on your desktop will make you feel like a total badass.