Yeah Asa, But What Has Mozilla Done for Me Lately?

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.

9 thoughts on “Yeah Asa, But What Has Mozilla Done for Me Lately?

  1. Kreme

    Firefox has become super-fragile. I only use it anymore for newzbin because of the grease monkey script that feeds nzbs directly into sabnzbd+, and even there I have to restart it several times a say because of “unresponsive scripts”. Right now I am running Safari 4 beta with SafariAdblock installed and suffering with the massive amounts of advertising that that combo lets through.

    Firefox is slow at the best of times, and after running for a while (a few hours) it is processor heavy, memory intensive, and crash happy. And it takes exactly 10 times as long to launch as S4.

    And every release seems to be getting worse and worse. I’ve been using it pretty steadily since version 0.5 (Phoenix), through Firebird, and on, but each release makes me hate it a little more. Someone brings flashblock and sensible pop-up blocking to Safari 4 and I’ll be gone for good.

  2. mark

    “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.”

    Ugliness? Only one of the two called the other a creep. I’ll let you guess which one.

  3. JohnB

    Firefox has had it’s own built-in session manager for awhile now .. so that’s yet another extension you can toss out 🙂 … to put it quite bluntly I’m sick of this “what has (insert name of company) ever done for me?” attitude. Be glad they ever released Firefox and Fennec and Camino in the first place and be glad they kicked Microsoft in their collective cans. .. to the commenters above .. Are you not using Firefox 3? I can leave a system with Firefox 3 installed running for days no crashes no “heaviness” nothing. You sure you’re using new-ish hardware or something? Maybe the real reason for all this bitching exists between the keyboard and chair.

  4. N0mad

    Right on … Firefox 3 sucks battery life like no other app I’ve seen and leaks memory like a sieve. Compared to Chrome, it is crap. Sorry Firefox, you are a has-been. Nice knowing you.

  5. Adron

    Wow. You have some serious stability problems on your system. I’m using Vista, which is supposed to be notoriously buggy, and I have zero of the issues you describe with FireFox. I must admit though, even without many of the issues I’ve been using Opera & Chrome for a LONG time now, Opera for years. Both browsers are insanely faster than IE(any version) and Firefox. If you want some real browsing, just drop those others. Even Safari (which I’ve used on XP, Vista, and OS-X) isn’t anything compared to Chrome & Opera.

    So stop your bitching and whining (like FireFox boy) and just get some alternate browsers.

  6. Wladimir Palant

    Yes, you have some really strange issues. But Firefox is not at fault here. You can see for some numbers. And personally I haven’t seen any stability issues in years, despite usually having more than 20 tabs – typically, I only restart Firefox once a month, whenever the next stability/security update is out (then again, I choose my extensions carefully).

    From the two extensions you mention SessionManager would be the prime suspect. I hope you didn’t install it on your wife’s computer as well? As JohnB mentioned above, it is unnecessary – this feature is built into Firefox and works reliably (select “Show my tabs and windows from last time” for “When Firefox starts” option for bonus points). Of course, if by “Adblock” you mean the outdated and unmaintained Adblock then this one might be the problem as well (disclaimer: I am the author of Adblock Plus).

    Fact is, Mozilla has done an incredible amount of performance work before Firefox 3 release and quite a bit more after that (yes, most people noticed). They put much thought into security, ranging from new internal mechanisms and rearchitecturing that make exploitable vulnerabilities less likely via high-level protection mechanisms such as malware protection to rethinking user interfaces to make sure users don’t make the wrong security choice (e.g. on SSL errors). Mozilla is far from being done pushing open standards on the web – HTML5 being one of the big keywords here. And there is far more going on.

    Yes, most features aren’t immediately visible after an upgrade. And that’s a good thing – most people wouldn’t like being bombarded with new features. Instead, things “just work”, better than they did before, often in rather subtle ways. For example, the reason why you don’t understand the importance of web handlers – you are not a “regular user”, you already had a mail client installed before clicking a mailto link in the browser. For you, nothing changed. My wife however doesn’t even know what a mail client is and I think she isn’t alone with that. So when she clicks a mailto link in Firefox 3 she will get to choose between Yahoo, Gmail and maybe a few other (local) mail providers. For most people that’s infinitely more helpful than “Firefox doesn’t know how to open this address”.

    Finally, please re-read Asa’s post and this time try to recognize where he is being serious and what is just a sarcastic reaction to Dave Winer calling him a “creep”.

  7. Tony

    Try using Chrome and opening new tabs for, a couple of YouTube pages, Gmail and Facebook. I’ve found all the browsers eat up resources like crazy. I also think you’ve got some stability issues on your computer or possibly your Firefox profile. FX never crashes for me, while Chrome crashes more than I’d like (understandly, it’s still an early product).

  8. eas Post author

    Adron, I’ve had the problems with Firefox on both XP and the Mac, with and without 3rd party extensions. Outright crashing is rare, but even when it only happens once a month, it causes a lot of pain and frustration because even with session restore, work can be lost. The CPU/memory hogging, and degrading responsiveness are a daily issue.

    I’d use Chrome if there was a Mac version out. I may give Opera another try, though in the past, I wasn’t happy with its compatibility. Safari, at least, is free and supported on the Mac, so that’s my next step for now.

    JohnB, you sound like a bootlicker. My guess is that Asa would get off on your groveling, why don’t you go over there. My point in asking what Mozilla has done for me lately is that the “Awesome bar” (what a self-congratulatory name), etc, isn’t so awesome when they aren’t delivering on earlier promises.

    Mark, it’s hard to follow the “he said, she said,” of who said what to who first between Dave and Asa. Even if Dave called Asa a creep, Asa looks like a jerk for the nature and magnitude of his response. I personally have no problem, in the abstract, with Dave editing stuff after publishing it, but there is a clear pattern of him posting things in the heat of the moment, then editing them out, leaving anyone who responds to his earlier statements looking like they fired first. Whoever started it, Asa’s post suggests contempt not just for Dave and anyone else he decides is a “scenester” but pretty much anyone who questions the priorities of Firefox. Freedom fighters are great, but there comes a time when you are no longer a guerilla. George Washington understood that. People like Robert Mugabe, Lennin, Castro, etc do not. Asa’s post makes me think he’s more like the latter than the former. I’m glad its just a web browser.

  9. eas Post author

    Waldimir, thanks for your cool-headed comments. As I said above, the stability issues are infrequent, but they hurt when they bite. The deterioration in responsiveness and escalation in resource usage is ever present (and drives the need for regular restarts). I’ve tried ditching all the extensions, but it didn’t seem much better. I end up continuing to use Session Manager because the built in session manager is too limited. For one thing, Session Manager keeps a history of multiple sessions, which lets me shut down and restart with an empty browser to do troubleshooting, and then go back to my previous session. If there is a good way of doing the same thing with the built in session manager, I’ve missed it.

    As for AdBlock, I’m actually using the latest Ad Block Plus.

    I’m going to take strong issue with the way you echo Asa’s use of the term “regular users.” I find it Orwellean. It’s used to divide people into two camps, in this case it becomes “regular users” and anyone who has a problem or questions the direction Firefox has taken.

    Sarcasm doesn’t play well in writing, so it’s hard for me to separate the sarcasm directed at Dave from Asa’s other points. Asa could have said something like:

    Dave, we’ve had disagreements in the past, and I expect we’ll continue to have them in the future, but that is no reason to call me a “creep.”

    As you know, software can’t always be all things to all people. When we started the Firefox project, Internet Explorer was the dominant browser, and no obvious contenders existed. Mozilla, which Firefox grew out of, was encrusted with features and options that appealed to its developers, but got in the way of everyone else. We took a hard line on features, focusing on things we though would provide the greatest value to the greatest number of users. This allowed us to simplify the user experience, and the code base.

    One feature we elevated was the importance of security. Security problems are obvious, but as you noted, security improvements are often invisible.

    Often, our other features aren’t obvious either, they just make things easier, like the Awesome Bar, or help unlock more of the potential of the web, like web protocol handlers.

    I think you’d be particularly interested in the Web Protocol handlers, Dave, because they provide a client side mechanism for tying together web applications. Links that ordinarily would have opened in a desktop application can now open in another web app.

    We may not be able to give you everything you want, but I think the things we do focus on benefit you as much as people who have more mundane needs.

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