Today’s browsers are constantly trying to improve and beat their competition. This ranges from behind-the-scenes changes to improved speed or standards support, user interface changes for a cleaner look, or even the addition of entirely new features.
However, the developers of all those browsers haven’t been very active (or successful) in one type of improvement that could potentially bring some massive results: going from 32-bit to 64-bit.
Why is going from 32-bit to 64-bit an important step? Virtually all computers that you can find today are capable of running 64-bit operating systems. 64-bit operating systems enable you to use more than 3.25 GB of RAM, and increase the performance of your system in certain cases.
Memory management is also improved in 64-bit systems. In order to make use of this 64-bit capability, not only does the operating system need to be compiled for 64-bit machines, but the individual applications need to be as well. While 64-bit operating systems are capable of running 32-bit software (this is mainly the case for Windows; on other operating systems such as Mac OS X and Linux, it’s also possible but highly frowned upon), you won’t get the benefits that 64-bit software would provide.
The Windows 64-bit Situation
On Windows, there are no official 64-bit builds of any browser except Internet Explorer. Even then, IE is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors in order to be more compatible with plugins, which back then were primarily 32-bit only. However, the major plugins are now available in the 64-bit flavor, so browsers now have some motivation to crank out some 64-bit builds of their own. This seems to be taking a while though with a number of hurdles to overcome.
Firefox has finally come out with a 64-bit nightly, but it’s nowhere near ready to be called stable. Instead, the developers of the Waterfox project have been working hard to get an unofficial build of 64-bit Firefox out and making it fast. While Waterfox began as an unofficial project, Mozilla is now supporting it and may start incorporating it sometime in the future to release official, stable builds of 64-bit Firefox.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Waterfox beats Chrome in the SunSpider benchmark, whereas Chrome usually beats regular Firefox.
Downloading and Installing
Getting and installing Waterfox is just as easy as with Firefox. Simply head over to their website’s download page, and scroll a little down to get the latest version. The page also states that you need to have the Visual C++ 2010 Redistributable Package (x64) installed, but this is not an issue for Windows 7 64-bit users, but rather for those on previous Windows 64-bit versions. Additionally, the page lists links to the 64-bit version of the most common plugins so that you can have a smooth Web experience with your new 64-bit browser.
Waterfox is also very helpful when transitioning from regular Firefox because it uses the same Firefox profile as the 32-bit flavor. Therefore, any passwords, history, preferences, and add-ons that have been installed in regular Firefox will be instantly available upon first launch of Waterfox. As that implies, all add-ons made for regular Firefox also work 100% in Waterfox. The amount of work necessary to switch to the 64-bit Firefox browser is pretty minimal. To review, all you need to do is the following:
Install Visual C++ 2010 Redistributable Package (x64) if necessary
Install 64-bit version of plugins if not already done
Waterfox really is a great browser, making the Firefox we all know (and some of us love) a little faster and happier in its 64-bit environment. Mac OS X and Linux users don’t need to be too jealous that Waterfox is a Windows-only project, as those two operating systems have had official 64-bit builds of all major browsers for a relatively long amount of time.
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