Penguins get their Wayland with Firefox 121

Latest version of Mozilla's web browser brings something different depending on your machine

Version 121 of Mozilla's Firefox web browser, released yesterday, has changes that affect Linux, Windows, and Mac users differently.

Unusually, this release has three different new features on the three main platforms it supports, and all of them depend on the configuration of your local machine.

There are some changes that affect everyone, though. Billed as an accessibility feature, it's now possible to tell the browser to always underline hyperlinks, regardless of the page designers' wishes. In the integrated PDF viewer/editor, a new trashcan button makes it easier to delete objects added to the document. Webmail users can set Firefox as their email client, and under the hood there are also changes in rendering that may affect web developers.

Windows wonks get more efficient video

On Windows machines, Firefox will now automatically install Microsoft's own version of the new AV1 video codec. We described the format thus:

AV1 is a relatively new codec that has a lot of people excited, in part because it's royalty free, but also because it's exceptionally space efficient.

Various tests have shown AV1 to be anywhere from 20 to 40 percent more efficient when compared to popular web streaming codecs, including H.265.

Mac mavens get the power of voice

On macOS, Firefox 121 now supports Apple's Voice Control feature. Voice Control appeared in macOS 10.15 "Catalina" in 2019 and allows macOS to be controlled using spoken commands. Although this is a valuable accessibility feature for those with disabilities affecting the use of their arms or hands, it's also useful if your arms work but are busy, for instance while working in a wet or messy environment, and being able to drive Firefox this way could be very handy.

(As an aside, Voice Control is one of two entirely separate macOS features that can turn spoken words into text, alongside the older and separate macOS Dictation functionality which has been around for a decade or more. This is oddly parallel to the situation over on Microsoft Windows, which also has two separate and independent speech-driven interfaces: Windows Speech Recogition, which works in Windows 10 and 11, and the newer Voice Access introduced in Windows 11.)

And penguin pesterers get native Wayland support

Firefox is the go-to web browser on most Linux distros, and here, if you are already running a Wayland-based desktop, Firefox 121 will render direct to Wayland without using the XWayland server.

Wayland is the next-generation display server protocol for Linux (and FreeBSD) desktops, which has gained major ground this year. Even version 5 of the Raspberry Pi OS uses it by default. Now Firefox natively talks the Wayland protocol to your compositor, a feature that has been around for a while but was turned off in most distros.

This is not purely a performance enhancement. It means better handling of trackpad and touchscreen gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom, sharper less blurry text on hi-DPI displays, and better handling of different DPI settings if you have more than one display and use different scaling factors on them.

In theory, though, it should offer faster rendering and less tearing. We attempted to benchmark it on Ubuntu 22.04.03, using the built-in snap-packaged version of Firefox, but the browser repeatedly crashed. However, in fairness, we had to force-enable Wayland because of an elderly GPU which needs version 390 of the Nvidia binary driver, so this isn't a supported or recommended config, and we don't think it reflects on Firefox at all.

Don't panic. If you're using a traditional desktop, such as Xfce, Unity, or MATE – in fact, basically anything other than recent versions of GNOME and KDE Plasma – or any of the distros that doesn't use Wayland, such as Linux Mint, then the new Firefox will still render to X11, the same as ever. ®

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