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Can Firefox Be Saved? Two Proposals
Datamation ^ | 4 April 2011 | Serdar Yegulalp

Posted on 04/05/2011 5:06:36 AM PDT by ShadowAce

After spending months on end watching Mozilla Firefox 4 go through eleven-and-some-odd betas, I’m less than impressed with what I’ve waited for all this time. The first time I launched a fresh install of Firefox 4 and navigated to the homepage of the New York Times, it hung for almost a minute on end – and then every ad block on the page burped with a “Flash plugin has crashed” message.

This is progress?

I know I’m not alone in this, either – many folks I know who had been suffering through successive Firefox betas were disillusioned with the quality of the release product. They’re either rolling back to Firefox 3.6 or ditching it entirely.

Me, I’d ditched Firefox for Chrome back around revision 3.4 or so. Maybe earlier.

Like too many other software projects before it, Firefox is starting to suffer from the very things it was originally developed to avoid. It’s falling victim to the exact stagnation that plagued Netscape before it. The competition – not just Chrome, but even lowly old Internet Explorer, now in its ninth version – is outpacing it in greater strides.

In short, there’s now less reason than ever to be a Firefox user.

That’s a shame, because Firefox isn’t a bad piece of software. It’s just increasingly suffering from third-wheel syndrome, which it hasn’t found an effective way to lick yet.

Google Chrome, by contrast, has come from behind to eclipse Firefox in a whole slew of ways. On the same hardware, it launches and browsers more quickly and with less inexplicable lag than Firefox. Flash doesn’t hiccup or stall, and hasn’t bombed on me at all for a few versions running now.

Google Chrome’s add-on architecture is a lot easier to work with and requires a prospective software author to jump through far less hoops. Its page debugging and inspection tools are remarkable; I rely on them constantly. And while running each tab in its own process is more memory-hungry than Firefox, at least I know that memory’s being put to good use: if one tab stalls, the rest don’t.

But wait: I’m not just here to bury Firefox and praise Chrome. If anything, I’d like to see Firefox rise all the more to the challenge and give Chrome a run for its money. I just don’t see that happening with Firefox’s current development cycle.

Mozilla is talking about ramping up their releases to match Chrome’s, but I’m not sure that’s enough. What might be needed are solutions that are either far more precise than what Mozilla is dreaming up, or way more radical than they will aim for.

Make a break from the past

When Firefox came along, it was a welcome relief from the tired and stagnant Netscape. Here was a browser that threw out everything that didn’t need to be there, gave the user a snappy browsing experience, and offered a far more appealing alternative to Internet Explorer.

The whole reason all this was possible was because Firefox was a radical break from the past – an experimental branch of Mozilla that overtook the parent. Firefox left behind more baggage than it kept, and the end result was a massive success story.

Maybe it’s time to do that again. Let’s have a spinoff of Firefox that is to that browser what Firefox itself was to Netscape. Not just another iteration in Firefox’s development, but a clean slate – a way to get back to the basics that the original iterations of Firefox prided itself on and were valued for in the first place.

This is something that might only be possible by a third party, though. Only a third party might have the distance required to take Firefox, strip out everything that no longer needs to be there, and start over again with as little of Mozilla’s existing baggage as possible. The hard part isn’t getting the code (Firefox is open source, after all). The hard part would be assembling a development team willing to commit to a project of that scope.

Much as I like to believe in the romance of open source, a project like this isn’t something you can do on nights and weekends – not in a competitive fashion, that is. That might well prove to be a bigger obstacle than writing the code: finding and supporting people who can do it and get it out the door in a timely way.

Ship smarter, not more often

Maybe kicking off a whole new branch of Firefox is too radical a suggestion for most people. Barring that, I took a look at the Firefox roadmap for 2011 to see what Mozilla itself has in mind.

There are a lot of goals here, and it’s not clear which goals are being targeted for what versions or if they’re all being attacked simultaneously. What’s more, there’s a lot of things discussed here that still don’t have any major relevance to users. Example: “Expand the Open Web Platform to include Apps, Social and Identity.” This could easily mean anything. And at any rate, it doesn’t add up to much right now given that most people are just surrendering and using Facebook to sign into everything.

(It’s a nice goal for Mozilla to promote more open-ended identity frameworks, but to my mind it’s pointless, given that the very browser being used to do the signing in keeps grinding to a crawl.)

My suggestion is this: Pick one major goal per iteration of Firefox, and commit everyone across the board to making that goal real.

The first goal I recommend is an expanded version of item #2 on the Firefox list: Declare an all-out war on lag.

Find every possible reason why the browser lags, slows down, or stalls entirely and get rid of it. Since the reasons for such a thing may be rampant throughout the product, that means you have all the more reason to make such an effort an all-fronts war and not just an ongoing priority.

Get that investigated, get it done, and release a version of the product where that is the major reason for an upgrade. If the answers lie in a bad user configuration, then at the very least let the user know that’s the culprit. Don’t give him an excuse to leave.

The same one-major-problem-at-a-time approach should also be applied to problems with Flash, and to the other show-stopping, browser-wide issues that everyone complains about.

These things are scaring people off, and they need to be attacked as fiercely as they can.

More is not better; sometimes it’s just more

It’s not hard to read Mozilla’s stated goal of releasing new iterations of the browser more often, and with more revisions to the left of the decimal point, as a way to play catch-up with Chrome.

The thing is, releases and revisions are entirely arbitrary: it doesn’t matter what they call the next iteration of Firefox. What matters more is how each revision represents real advances for the state of the program that end users can bank on.

Without that, no product is worth building on as a base of productivity. A stagnant program is just as unusable as one revised without clear goals.

What I really don’t want to see is Firefox become to browsers what Ubuntu has become to Linux distributions. I don’t want them shipping a product every six months whether we like it or not, one where there are at least as many regressions as there are advances.

And, most of all, I don’t want to turn my back on a browser that did a lot to make the Web what it is now. But software’s about what works, not where your heart’s at – and right now, for me, Chrome is what works. Firefox remains under wraps.

TOPICS: Computers/Internet
KEYWORDS: firefox; internet
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To: oh8eleven
I disagree 100%. I started using FF4 Beta 6 right through FF4 RC and I saw an incredible increase in performance. In fact, installing the beta versions never overwrote the old version (3.6?), and comparing the two was easy.

Me, too--what you said. FF4 has been fast and stable for me. I haven't even explored a lot of the new features, like bookmark synchronization across the cloud, which is now built in rather than an add on.

21 posted on 04/05/2011 5:52:02 AM PDT by Pearls Before Swine
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To: Second Amendment First
You are welcomed, one more...

* Bookmark Duplicate Detector... Why suck up the disk space it is neat.

22 posted on 04/05/2011 5:52:10 AM PDT by taildragger (( Palin / Mulally 2012 ))
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To: ShadowAce

All I want is a browser that allows me click one button to immediately stop flash just for that browser window alone, and not affect the rest of my browsing. I’m sure the code to do this exists.

23 posted on 04/05/2011 5:54:16 AM PDT by Larry Lucido
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To: Psycho_Bunny
This guy sounds exactly like someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
I can't take serious anything that's written by someone named Serdar Yegulalp. It's just me.
24 posted on 04/05/2011 5:55:41 AM PDT by oh8eleven (RVN '67-'68)
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To: taildragger
Check out ixquick for a search engine.
25 posted on 04/05/2011 5:58:40 AM PDT by ShadowAce (Linux -- The Ultimate Windows Service Pack)
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To: ShadowAce
Using FF4 and the only complaint I have is they revered the "open in New Window" and "Open in New Tab position in the drop down box.

I keep opening things in new windows when I meant to open them in a tab.

26 posted on 04/05/2011 6:00:24 AM PDT by CharacterCounts (November 4, 2008 - the day America drank the Kool-Aid)
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To: abb

I loaded FF4.0 also but had to uninstall and go back to 3.6.X because my Norton 360 Identity Safe and Web Safe would not work with FF4.0. Norton claims they are working on a fix to integrate with new FF but right not I’m stuck with 3.6

27 posted on 04/05/2011 6:02:28 AM PDT by JaguarXKE
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To: ShadowAce

Have yet to have a problem with Firefox 4, which I am using now.

28 posted on 04/05/2011 6:05:40 AM PDT by Colonel_Flagg ("It's hard to take the president seriously." - Jim DeMint)
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To: mnehring

That’s an acrobat issue. Re-install acrobat and you’ll be fine.

29 posted on 04/05/2011 6:06:03 AM PDT by Dead Corpse (explosive bolts, ten thousand volts at a million miles an hour)
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To: ShadowAce

Ace, Thanx, I think I saw it eons ago while reseaching the subject. Tried it, like it, it now the homepage. Wow....

30 posted on 04/05/2011 6:07:04 AM PDT by taildragger (( Palin / Mulally 2012 ))
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To: CharacterCounts
I trip over that one as well. However, it makes sense. Less mouse movement to open a new tab. I use the tab more than new window.

That's just a more matter of habit than a design issue.

31 posted on 04/05/2011 6:08:26 AM PDT by Dead Corpse (explosive bolts, ten thousand volts at a million miles an hour)
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To: taildragger

>I will do anything to stay away from anything Google given their relationship with “The One”. No Crome, no-GMail, but I still looking for a better search engine, maybe Screwgle (spelled correct?) just to piss Google off.<

I have the same reasons too. Google’s CEO Schmidt works closely with obama, plus I have never heard of an “email” that asks you for your PHONE NUMBER as confirmation to use the e-mail. Craigslist, Paypal, Ebay..sure, they are financial but an FN e-mail?? Yeah, I use Scroogle from time to time and Bing does it better sometimes with searches.

32 posted on 04/05/2011 6:12:10 AM PDT by max americana ( NF)
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To: ShadowAce

My experience with Firefox 4 has been OK; although I continually get a message to update to 4; and firefox update failed click here to upgrade to 4. Also when I close out my last window for the day; firefox crashes. Also some of my addons before the upgrade to 4; disappeared and will not download.

33 posted on 04/05/2011 6:12:56 AM PDT by PoloSec ( Believe how that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again for our justification)
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To: max americana

Check out post 25, I just made it my HP... Slick....

34 posted on 04/05/2011 6:20:34 AM PDT by taildragger (( Palin / Mulally 2012 ))
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To: ShadowAce

I don’t trust Google enough to install their junk on my computers.

35 posted on 04/05/2011 6:27:30 AM PDT by FreeAtlanta (Obama and the left are making a mockery of our country.)
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To: ShadowAce

I will not under any circumstances embrace Google in any of its manifestations.

36 posted on 04/05/2011 6:28:28 AM PDT by Ge0ffrey
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To: ShadowAce
I've had to quite FF4 & restart many more times than I did with FF3. It does seem to absorb memory pretty quickly.

I still haven't given up on it but I think right now I'd recommend not changing yet.

37 posted on 04/05/2011 6:31:36 AM PDT by Tribune7 (The Democrat Party is not a political organization but a religious cult.)
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To: Dead Corpse

I’ve developed liking the tabs more than opening windows as time went by. Seen people have 15 tabs in 1 window more than a couple of times LOL.

38 posted on 04/05/2011 6:32:47 AM PDT by max americana ( NF)
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To: ShadowAce
I'm currently running FF4 on three machines - two with Windows 7 and one on XP. I have found it considerably faster than FF 3.6.13 or whatever the last iteration was. In particular, page loads and transitions are noticeably quicker.

I also enjoy being able to use three add-ons in particular: NoScript prevents unauthorized code from running on any page you visit without your express approval. It will quickly make you aware of how much crap goes on behind the scenes - and how much of that is unneeded/undesired. I also like IE Tab Plus, which allows you to toggle the rendering engine for any page between Firefox and Internet Explorer. Finally, there is Xinha Here! - a nice, neat little WYSIWYG html editor - very useful for formatting complex posts on FR, for example.

39 posted on 04/05/2011 6:33:52 AM PDT by andy58-in-nh (America does not need to be organized: it needs to be liberated.)
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To: abb

My older laptop is a Dell 1000 with 512,000 limited memory. Just loaded NYT using Firefox 4. No problems at all. I have no idea what the author’s problem is.

40 posted on 04/05/2011 6:34:21 AM PDT by UB355 (Slower traffic keep right)
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