With Firefox 4 getting closer and closer to release, we've introduced a new feature in the Beta: We've enabled hardware acceleration through Direct2D by default for our users using Windows Vista or Windows 7 and having DirectX 10 Compatible hardware. As some of our users might know, this feature has been available to them through a special preference for a while now, even as far back as the Alpha. However, after a lot of hard work from our Graphics team, we now feel confident enough to enable it by default for our users with compatible hardware.
So what is Hardware Acceleration?
Usually when we talk about hardware acceleration we mean using the graphics card of your computer to accelerate certain graphical operations. Nowadays the graphics cards in most people's computers have an immense amount of computational power, often many times more than the normal processor. This computational power is very specialized and cannot just be used for anything. It's most commonly used for video games, but obviously as web browsers use more and more graphical effects, we want to use it inside firefox as well!
What is Direct2D?
Direct2D is a rendering system part of the DirectX package which is shipped with Windows. It was introduced in Windows 7 and ported back to Windows Vista in the Vista Platform Update. It allows us to access the hardware with a simple 2D graphics drawing API for all mozilla drawing code, allowing hardware acceleration for a very large number of scenarios.
How will I see it's working?
You should notice that some pages are a lot faster and more responsive, in particular, pages that use advanced, animated graphical effects. For example, pages with transparency or that include transformations. In addition to that, you can see if it's currently turned on for your system by looking in 'about:support'.
Help! It broke my browsing experience!
Since we're currently still in Beta, it's not completely unfeasible that on your particular system hardware acceleration might cause you issues! Of course we don't want this to prevent you from using and testing our beta. If you're experiencing issues you can switch it off by going to 'Tools->Options->Advanced' and there you will be able to unset hardware acceleration.
So this thing might break your browsing experience, right? Well, that's something we'd love to hear about so we can fix those issues! We've created an extension especially designed to test our browser on your system, and it can be used to send us data on any unexpected behavior. There's a great post on it on JGriffin's Blog, the more people install it, the faster we can improve our support!
That's all well and good, but what about other platforms?
At this point in time we do not have a system such as Direct2D available on other platforms. However we are working hard on alternative approaches to use hardware acceleration on other platforms. You should expect to hear more on that soon!
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