TenFourFox taps disused resources of your aging PowerPC

Many of us geeks, especially those of us in the IT world replace our hardware almost as often as fashionistas change wardrobes. For some reason, I have a thing for old hardware. While I certainly don’t use it on a daily basis, I have a hard time parting with my favorite gear. I see it as something akin to automotive enthusiasts that like to keep that prized vintage car in their garage. They won’t drive it to work every day, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love taking it for a spin on the weekends.

I have a similar relationship with some of my favorite machines.  I still use a 15″ PowerBook G4 at home on a fairly regular basis.  (in fact I’m typing this post on it right now)  At it’s heart is a 1.67Ghz PowerPC G4 processor.  (the last model and fastest PPC Apple ever delivered in a laptop)  By today’s standards, this single-core machine barely stays ahead of most netbooks.  It’s battery is dead, and it gets fairly hot when you push it, but I find it to be perfectly adequate for most things.

Apple’s support of the PPC architecture ended 2 OS revisions ago (Leopard or 10.5) and even the Mozilla foundation dropped support from their Firefox browser after the 3.6.x series. (and even that will stop receiving updates soon…)  Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised to find a project known as TenFourFox not only recompiling the latest Firefox from source, but actually making PPC specific improvements as well!  TenFourFox is basically Firefox, but separately optimized for PowerPC G3, two flavors of G4 and the G5 CPU.  That would be enough in itself, but the developers didn’t stop there.  They’ve swapped out the old just-in-time JavaScript compiler with their recently completed nanojit for PPC which beats even Apple’s native Safari browser.  (which until recently was the only browser with anything close to decent performance)  This is all possible because there are still people in the Open Source community interested in this platform who know how to leverage resources like AltiVec.  Kudos to the TenFourFox team for keeping this aging platform relevant!