Saturday, July 2, 2016

Dr Kaiser? You've been Servoed. Good day.

TenFourFox 45 is about 30% merged so far. I've been able to streamline a few changesets and cut out some others, which is mostly a feel-good futile move since 45 is the last changeset merge I'll have to do personally, but so far it's an easier port than 43 was and I've probably just jinxed myself saying so. Nevertheless, the target for beta 1 in mid-July still stands so far and 38.10, hopefully the final release of TenFourFox 38, is scheduled for August 2. After that the target is for 45.4 to reach release in September.

Once 45 hits release and 38 is retired, we'll start the old unstable builds up again for new features (i.e., feature parity). My plan is one new functionality improvement and one new optimization each cycle, with 6-12 week cycles for baking due to our smaller user base. You'll get some clues about the user-facing features as part of tenfourfox.dtd, which will be pre-written so that localizers can have it done and features can just roll out as I complete them.

On to other things. Mozilla announced yesterday the (very preliminary) release of the Servo Developer Preview, using their next-generation Servo engine instead of the Gecko engine that presently powers Firefox (and TenFourFox). Don't get your hopes up for this one: Servo is written in Rust, Rust needs llvm (which doesn't work yet on OS X/ppc, part of the reason we're dropping source parity), and even the extant PowerPC Rust compiler on Linux may never be capable of building it. This one's strictly for the Intel Mac lulz.

So here's Servo, rendering Ars Technica:

Servo's interface is very sparse, but novel, and functional enough. I'm not going to speak further about that because it's quite obviously nowhere near finished or final. It works well enough to test and I wasn't able to make the browser crash in my brief usage. Thumbs up there.

With regard to the layout engine, though, many things don't work. You can see several rendering glitches immediately on the main page with the gradient and font block backgrounds. Comment threads in articles appear crazily spaced. Incidentally, I don't care if you can see my browser tabs or that I'm trying to figure out how to interface a joystick port to a Raspberry Pi (actually, it's for a C.H.I.P., but the Pi schematics should work for the GPIO pins, as well as whatever's needed to connect it to 5V logic).

The TenFourFox home page doesn't fare much better:

The background is missing and the top Classilla link seems to have gotten fixed to the top. On the other hand, the Help and Support Tab does load, but articles are not clickable and you can't pick anything from drop-down select form elements.

Now, I'll admit this last one is an unfair test, but Floodgap's home page is also pretty wrecked:

This is an unfair test because I intentionally wrote the Floodgap web page to be useable and "proper" as far back as Netscape Navigator 3, festooning it with lots of naughtiness like <font face> and other unmentionables that are the equivalent of HTML syphilis. Gecko handles it fine, but Servo chokes on the interlaced GIFs and just about completely ignores any of the font colour and face stuff. But I wasn't really expecting it to do otherwise at this stage; no doubt quirks mode is not currently a priority.

I think the best that can be said about this first public release of Servo, admittedly from my fairly uninformed outsider view, is that it exists and that it works. There was certainly a lot of doubt about those things not too long ago, and Mozilla has demonstrated clearly with this release that Servo is viable as a technology if not yet as a browser. What is less clear is what advantages it will ultimately offer. Though the aim with Servo is better performance on modern systems, especially systems with cores to burn, on this 2014 i7 MacBook Air Servo didn't really seem to offer any speed advantage over Gecko -- even with the understanding this version is almost certainly unoptimized, right now Gecko is rather faster, substantially less buggy and infinitely more functional. It's going to take a very long time before Servo can stand on its own, let alone become a Gecko replacement, and I think in the meantime Mozilla needs to do a better job of not alienating the users they've got or Servo-Firefox will remain a purely academic experiment.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the next version and seeing how it evolves, even though I doubt it will ever run on a Power Mac.

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