I’ve had my frustrations with Firefox, but it wasn’t until the last day or so that I realized how bad things are. Bare with me for a minute while I explain why.
There was an opinion piece on the PC World website a few days ago called “Firefox Might Already Be Dead.” The author tried a pre-beta build of the Chrome browser on Linux and was blown away at how much faster it was than Firefox, which made him wonder what the Firefox developers have been spending their time on. The piece drew some attention.
Dave Winer offered his opinion, he needed some Firefox add-ins, so he wasn’t likely to jump ship anytime soon. He also wondered how well Chrome would run when it had something like feature parity with Firefox, but then went on to add that most of the new features in Firefox over the last few years didn’t interest him. Dave’s comments made me realize that the only Firefox add-ins I consider must-haves I use as work arounds for its performance and reliability problems.
Something about Dave’s criticism or the way it was delivered touched a raw nerve with Asa Dotzler, a Mozilla Corporation employee who is credited with starting the Firefox Quality Assurance and marketing efforts. To put it bluntly, Asa seems to have completely lost his shit. You can and probably should read it for yourself, but basically Asa decries Dave as an out-of-touch “sceenster” whose ideas about software are the enemy of “the regular user,” for whom Asa and Firefox have been brave and lonely champions against the evils of Microsoft. In Asa’s mind Dave and pretty much everyone else owe them boot-licking thanks for that.
To a degree, I agree with him, but the smugness and uglyness in his post broke the dam on my long brewing frustration with Firefox. I left a comment on his blog, but it may never make it past his comment moderation, and I think it’s something that needs saying.
Yeah, Asa, but what has Mozilla done for us lately?
I realized yesterday, my two must-have Firefox extensions are AdBlockPlus and SessionManager. AdBlock, because it lets me shut down embedded flash ads that Firefox lets bog it down, SessionManager so that I can get back to where I was if the browser crashes or I have to restart it to troubleshoot, or because it’s bogged down and/or sucking memory and CPU.
What has Firefox done for me lately? Right now with maybe 20 web pages (none of them particularly dynamic) open over 4 tabs it’s sucking down 25% of the processing power on my MacBook Pro and torpedoing my battery-life.
What has Firefox done for me lately? Once again my “regular user” wife is complaining that her computers is slow and glitchy because on her machine, with however many tabs and windows worth of IE6-renderable web pages she has open, Firefox is eating an entire CPU core and half of the real memory. Or she’s nearly on the verge of tears because all the research she’s done, captured in those open tabs and windows, has been lost because the browser crashed (again) and the built-in session restore didn’t work right.
I’ve told her time and again that Firefox just can’t handle it, and she does her best, but really, why shouldn’t a regular user do exactly what she’s doing? Why does Firefox let regular people open a hundred tabs in a dozen windows if it’s not cut out for the job.
The truth is, it’s been this way for years. Awesomebar, mailto: opening in gmail? (recent Firefox features that Asa cites as examples of exciting innovation) W T F? Most of the “regular users” I know haven’t discovered them and wouldn’t miss them, they only matter to you and your self-satisfied sceenster friends who think they know best. Why are you wasting time on that when existing popular features, features you used to “sell” Firefox to end users in the first place result in so much pain.
And you have the nerve to demonize Microsoft? There wouldn’t be a consumer Internet, a consumer web, web browsers, Firefox, or Google ad revenue to fund jobs for you and your smug sceenster friends if Microsoft hadn’t driven volume up and prices down in the PC industry. You want Dave and the rest of us to kiss your feet? Ok, fine, right after you get down and grovel in front of Bill Gates and Steve Balmer.
Firefox has had a good run, but if 3.5 comes out with more new features without the basics working smoothly and consistently, I’d say that you, like Microsoft, are no longer part of the solution. You are part of the problem. And really, maybe Dave provoked you, but this post still makes you look like a jerk.
I appreciate the role Mozilla has played in moving the web forward. I appreciate that Firefox, more than a lot of open source projects, gives a damn about “regular users.” I even like the awesome bar. Even though I haven’t used it, I was glad that it is finally possible to have things like mailto: URLs in a web app, like Gmail, rather than having to choose a desktop application. I appreciate their focus on security. None of which means I won’t jump ship when Chrome comes to the Mac. I’m already leaning more and more to using Safari as my primary browser. Earlier versions had some real reliability problems, but whenever I’ve used v3 for an extended period of time, stability has been great, and performance has held up pretty well too.
PS: Does anyone remember when Microsoft came out with the Coolbar
Update: It looks like Miguel De Icaza tweeted a link to this post. Since this is a topic that is drawing strong passions on both sides, I’m closing comments before a real flamewar breaks out here that I don’t have time to moderate. Trackbacks are still on, so if you post to your own blog, it’ll be linked here.