Firefox’s PowerPC fork that spanned over a decade has reached the end of the road


Enlarge / An older PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, Microsoft Word 2008 and the TenFourFox browser.

Andrew Cunningham

PowerPC Macs have been roaming the earth for well over a decade, so long that the Intel Macs that replaced them are themselves being replaced by something else. But to this day, there is a small community of people who are still developing software for Mac PowerPC and Mac OS 9.

One of those projects was TenFourFox, a fork of the Firefox browser for G3, G4, and G5 based PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5. Mainly maintained by Cameron Kaiser, the TenFourFox project began in late 2010 after Mozilla removed PowerPC support from Firefox 4 during its development. And surprisingly, the browser has continued to roll ever since.

But continuing to backport Firefox functionality to aging, time-stuck PowerPC processors has become increasingly difficult over time. And in March of this year, Kaiser announced that updates to TenFourFox would end after more than a decade of development. The planned final version of TenFourFox took place earlier this month.

Kaiser’s full article is long, but it’s worth reading for fans of vintage computers or anyone working on software. modern internet and open source software development, saying:

I’m also proud of the many features in TenFourFox that have been successfully backported or completely new. TenFourFox was the first and still one of the few browsers on PowerPC Mac OS X to support TLS 1.3 (or even 1.2), and we’re the only browser of its kind with a JavaScript JIT. We’ve also completed a few features that were long planned for the mainline of Firefox but never did, like our AppleScript (and AppleScript-JavaScript bridge) support. Our implementation even allows you to manipulate web pages that may not work well to function in a useful way. During TenFourFox’s decade of existence, we’ve also implemented our own native date and time controls, a basic ad unit, advanced player view (including persistent and automatic features) , additional multimedia support (MP3, MP4, and WebP), additional functionality and syntax for JavaScript. , and AltiVec acceleration in all the different parts of the browser we could. There are also countless backported bugfixes in major parts of the browser that fix long-standing issues. All of this has kept Firefox 45, our optimal platform base, useful far beyond its expiration date, and made it an important upstream source for other legacy browsers (including, incredibly, OS / 2).

[T]he biggest investment is time: trying to stick to a regular schedule when the ground is moving under your feet is a big part of my rest hours, and since my usual profession is highly specialized and doesn’t have much to do with it. to do with IT, you can I don’t really pay myself enough to spend my day-to-day existence on TenFourFox or any other open source project because I just don’t scale. (We never accepted donations anyway, largely to keep people from thinking they were “buying” something.) I know some people make a living from free open source projects. I think these people are exceptions and remarkable precisely because of their rarity. Most open source projects, even those with large user bases, are ultimately black holes and always will be.

Kaiser doesn’t plan on stopping work on the browser altogether, but downgrades it to what he calls “leisure mode.” It will continue to backport security patches from new ESR versions of Firefox and post them to the TenFourFox Github page, but anyone wishing to use them will need to build the app themselves. Kaiser will also not undertake to provide support for these additions or to provide them on any schedule. Other developers are also encouraged to continue releasing versions of TenFourFox on their own.

There are plenty of reasons you wouldn’t want to browse the internet in 2021 on a PowerPC Mac, even with a fully supported browser. The G4 and G5 processors are an order of magnitude slower than modern Intel, AMD, or Apple Silicon processors, and trying to load a bloated modern website on a machine with only a gigabyte or two of RAM is a frustrating exercise.

On top of that, it’s been years since Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5 received any security updates, and most third-party app developers have long since moved on. Old computers can still run old software, as I learned when I tried running Mac OS 9 in 2014, but connecting or trying to interact with other computers is trickier. TenFourFox and its development blog testify to the difficulty of swimming against the tide.

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