Firefox 3.5, the recent release of the latest version of the Firefox web browser, now supports CSS transforms. CSS transforms are effects, such as scale, rotate and skew. This is a step forward for the Gecko rendering engine, but in plain terms, it still clearly lags behind webkit, which supports 2D and 3D CSS animations.
I’ve lately been very interested in how browsers handle the leading edge – browser technology that is still years away from widespread adoption. The question I’ve been having as of late is whether Firefox can keep up in this arena. They certainly aren’t slouches when it comes to new technology, but they are definitely being outpaced, particularly by Webkit. With the support for plugins, the rendering engine of Firefox is burdened with cumbersome functionality that must be maintained as new elements are added. This slows down the process of technology adoption. On the other hand, Webkit-based browsers have decreased plugin capability, which is a hindrance to their widespread adoption (and also a significant factor in why they consume less memory and perform faster in real-world use). Clearly, Firefox is a market leader, so their strategy has paid off in many respects.
This also begs the question of whether we would ever see a convergence of technology between Firefox and it’s closest competitors, Chrome and Safari. It is technically feasible that Firefox could be chopped apart and refueled with Webkit, but I’d expect that the effort would be far too difficult to go into hesitantly. The other side of the coin is that Webkit-based browsers will eventually support plugins. Google has openly stated they are working on robust plugin support, a front on which they’ve already made a few strides. One has to wonder if this will be a turning point – it certainly has the potential to be so.