Is Firefox dropping the ball, like Netscape in 97?

Is Firefox dropping the ball, like Netscape in 97?

Summary: Lately Netscape got overtaken by IE in 1997 - will Firefox in 06... I've been noticing a number of people criticising the performance of the latest versions of Firefox, since 1.

TOPICS: Browser

Lately Netscape got overtaken by IE in 1997 - will Firefox in 06... I've been noticing a number of people criticising the performance of the latest versions of Firefox, since 1.5. Nik Cubrilovic, a developer at online storage company OmniDrive, is the latest to point out performance issues with Firefox 1.5 and above:

"I can’t remember ever being an Internet Explorer user, and for the first time I am really struggling with the alternative – Firefox in this case. Today with only a couple of hours of web surfing I have had it crash on me at least 4 times, the last time it just kept on eating up more and more free memory while the application wasn’t even running."

Nik goes on to say that the main problem is memory leaks in Firefox:

"The problem seems to be that Firefox will not free up the memory once you close the tab, and with some pages it just keeps eating and eating into the free memory while using up all the free CPU cycles." 

This is a crucial juncture for Firefox. Its Spread Firefox! campaign is going full throttle and Firefox has definitely picked up users and support over the last year. As mentioned on the Spread Firefox blog:

"We've got some serious accomplishments under our belts.

Over 10% market share worldwide for Firefox, achieved in just over a year.

A thriving community for Firefox marketing that parallels the growth of the Mozilla developer community. "

But with IE7 coming very soon, with many of the features that Firefox has (tabs, RSS integration, etc), now is not a good time for Firefox to lose developer support. I don't mean to sound alarmist, but remember when Netscape got overtaken by IE circa 1997? From an article I wrote a couple of years ago in Digital Web Magazine:

"By 1997 Microsoft had finally caught up with and indeed overtaken Netscape in browser technology. While Netscape was the first to release its 4.0 browser, in June 1997, Microsoft soon trumped it with the release of IE 4.0 in October that year. IE 4.0 was widely seen as being a superior product—for example, IE’s stylesheet support was better than Navigator’s."

Well the signs are beginning to show that Microsoft may do it again - nearly 10 years later - and trump the technical leader in the browser wars. The ball is in Firefox's court though and it's by no means too late to stop the rot. Firefox desparately needs to keep the upper hand in browser innovation and performance.

Topic: Browser

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  • Weight of "innovation"

    Firefox is going the same route so many other "innovative" (particularly open source, but proprietary software does it as well, to drive upgrades) software products go: buried under their own weight. Forefox has always had minor glitches like this in it. Every line of code is a potential point of failure. To minimize bugs, you minimize code, which means writing in only the features that are needed. Firefox as a base product was supposed to be a "lean, mean" version of Mozilla, which was a fine browser but burdened with a billion doodads. Funny, a year after release, Firefox is now "a fine browser but burdened with a billion doodads". All too often I see this; a good product that gets the core of itself 75% right, then steams ahead with new feature after new feature, getting all of them 25% - 75% right, until the software becomes a complete catastrophe. When Microsoft does it, we call it "software bloat". Look at the Windows 9X series. It was basically DOS at heart, and DOS was just about right (or as "right" as it could ever be and maintain backwards compatability) by the time they came out with Windows 95, an "innovative" product. By the time Windows Me came out, the 9X line couldn't even handle its own weight; it needed more and more memory, but couldn't effectively manage memory. Not a good combination! This is where Firefox is headed. Too many new features developed by too many people, it is becoming a mess quickly.

    Justin James
    • Plugins not included.

      jmjames has a point. But, I don't beleive his statement that Firefox has too many new features. These features are developed and dispursed as plugins and are not a manditory addition to the base program. Could Firefox possibly be receiving a bad rap because of a few download-happy people who need to have every plugin available?
      • and javascript happy web developers too ...

        well, I have now about 20 tabs open, with a lot of images and even some animated images ... and the uptime is 5 days ... As far as I know, Firefox gets into trouble with bloated javascript: the worst are the huge graphics that serve as a sticky background on some pages; the next worst are the new "AJAX" pages with tons of "AJAX" widgets ... very cool but very processor intensive ... I think there is a reason Google mail/maps etc. hawe such simple interfaces.
        • Yup!

          I wrote about that earlier today (, the "why Google maps/mail etc. have such simple interfaces". It's because JavaScript is a miserable language, and the browsers have lousy interpreters for it. I fequently fantasize that Perl had become what JavaScript is... now there is a fast interpreted language.

          AJAX is the bane of all that is Good and Right, 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time it is pretty nifty.

          Justin James
    • Yes, simple is better.

      Microsoft has not over-elaborated IE, and I appreciate being able to choose only a few additional functions to make it work as I want.

      I think the reason was the plan to eliminate the browser as separately identifiable in Longhorn. As a result, work on the browser would have been wasted.

      Now that the idea has been dropped for Vista, Microsoft is revising the browser again. I hope that little will be added, and that any unnecessary features like tabbed browsing and RSS can be easily turned off.

      The problem for FireFox may be too many people waning to be helpful. Sometimes the answer should be, If it ain't broke...
      Most excess begins as a good idea.
      Anton Philidor
  • I have to admit, with 69 extensions, I too

    have crashed, probably 4-5 times since last update, very annoying but I assumed it was because some of my extensions may be bumping. I read of some conflicts thru their FAQ, let me know if you see anymore:

    Finally, I have a desktop widget displaying my processor list (yes, FF is always #1), but with 5-7 tabs open at all times, it does not run away... sitting still now as a matter of fact... I am eyeing Opera though. YMMV
    • Isn't it obvious?

      You even posted your config here, for everyone to see... yet you won't take a few minutes to CHECK to see if any of your extensions conflict??

      You have MRTech Local Install, and about 5 extensions that conflict with it.

      I don't have to look any further to know that there are more (considering you have 69 total).

      One of the drawbacks with having something so confiigurable is, there will be a lot of people who MISCONFIGURE it, and then complain loudly when it breaks.

      I'm not syaing FFox is perfect - I've had my share of crashes - but with the number and nature of the extensions I have installed, I expect a little instability. If it gets too bad, I'll do a little research and figure out which extension is the culprit.
      • What a hoot, 89 FF'ers!

        As I was trying to point out, i'm sure all those extensions are bumping against each other but it would've been nice if you had told me exactly which one's it is that you are aware of just by looking at the list.

        No matter now, because that very same MRTech ext was asking me for the default folder for new ext's to be loaded to and when I put in the wrong one by accident, my FF went to crap after that.

        I un/re-installed FF but now it is not taking any ext installs (it keeps saying it will be ready after restart) so I have had to resort to IE because for some reason I'm not able to boot off my Ghost backup (with the bios changed).

        All in all, a very bad day for me in PC land although I did have a nice CSS triumph I was happy about earlier lol.

        I had no idea how fast IE was! I can't wait 'til a stable tabs version comes out. For now, I"m using both and I'm using ALOT less RAM (29172K now vs almost exactly twice that before).

        I wish I knew about that ext conflicting list someone pointed out before; it would be even better if FF would let you load them only if you didn't have a conflicting one already (or at least notify you).

        Finally, I loved my long hours of surfing with FF but today was the last straw for it being my default browser, hopefully the next version will be nicer to me because 20 minutes into IE and I'm already missing several ext's (but IE really is faster, I guess cause it doesn't have all those ext's holding it back lol).

        Oh well, live and learn, I got feeds to read and blogs to post. Peace.
    • Too many extensions?

      My experience is that extensions are more likely to cause problems than the browser itself. For the last update, I cut back my extensions considerably (now "only" 22, not including the DOM inspector and Talkback) and it seems more stable and faster. FWIW, FF- is sitting at around 2% CPU usage with 8 tabs loaded -- and this ain't no racehorse computer, either (dual PIII-600s with 512MB RAM).
  • Firefox does suck up a lot of memory

    I have to agree with Nik and his comments because Firefox does chew into the memory a lot and very fast. I've been using Firefox since it's first release and I have never seen so much memory consumption. I only have 4 plug-ins installed and they're compatible with the current version (1.5.1). I don't think it's the extensions sucking up the memory, I beleive it's Firefox code that's becoming bloatware.

    I am currently IE 7 Beta 2 and it's much faster at loading than Firefox and it does not take up too much memory. The IE 7 performance will definitely be better by it's final release, I can feel it. IE 7 has all the features Firefox has yet the rendering is not the greatest but I think that's also up to the web developers to make their websites compatible with IE 7.

    IE 7 can definitely and will take away the Firefox market share if Firefox developers don't get their act together and fix the memory leaks and performance issues.
    • This is a big impediment

      I also see huge memory consumption issues in FireFox. A problem, though, is the FF faithful mostly refuse to acknowledge this is possible, and assume the user is doing something wrong.

      Those who use FF because it's trendy and geeky just make ad hominem attacks on anybody who suggests what you did, Tyrone; the more polite and sober FF fans who actually want to promote it (instead of their own superiority) will suggest some configuration changes you might want to make (at the browser and OS level) to avoid this memory issue.

      That approach is fine, if FireFox is to be a sort of "members-only" browser that can only be used effectively by those who have the time and the knowledge to get into the guts of the program. But that automatically limits the number of people who can use it. I, for one, will not use it if I have to do that; a browser is an important tool for me, but not anything I feel I should have to pay that much attention to.
      • The majority don't have these problems

        I would agree if most users were having these problems, but the vast majority aren't. For most users Firefox 1.5 is a significant improvement. Obviously there are still serious memory leaks affecting some users, but the Firefox devs are working very hard to eliminate them, and I expect that most will be gone within a couple months.
        • That is reassuring

          to know that they're working on it. Perhaps I'm unduly influenced by the complainers (including myself); since the human tendency is for those with complaints to speak up while those who are content do not speak up, I may be making too much of the issue. I just fear that, even if it only affects, say, 5% of users, it could be something that kills an otherwise excellent browser.

          Thanks for letting me know that the developers are taking it seriously.
    • Now that's evidence: "I can feel it!"

      But seriously, you say things like, "I don't think it's the extensions sucking up the memory, I beleive it's Firefox code...". How about uninstalling your extensions and then giving us a ring back.

      Personally, I will not speak on that issue because I have not tried it myself but here is my issue.

      [quote]IE 7 has all the features Firefox has yet the rendering is not the greatest but I think that's also up to the web developers to make their websites compatible with IE 7.[/quote]

      I always thought that it was up to the rendering engine developer to make their renderer compatible to W3C standard web pages and not vice versa.

      Maybe that's just me. No, wait! Opera feels the same way! So does Safari! ...And Firefox! ...And <insert any other browser builder here>! Why can't IE get it into their heads that if the browser does not render properly then it doesn't matter how fast it is?

      I use Fx because it renders correctly and does not sneak in malware to my system. If IE7 renders faster, I still will not use it unless it also renders accurately and without loading malware.
      The King's Servant
      • But his last point is right:

        In any case, if FF doesn't fix these issues they're going to lose much of their recent growth to IE7.

        While the Malware issue is important, users as a whole will not use a faulty product just because it's less likely to give them malware. If they were so inclined then Apple would be growing marketshare too, especially since Apple isn't even "faulty."

        Just look at history.
      • RE:

        I have no extensions and the problem of memory is present.

        Also, sometimes (very few) it seems to enter into an infinite loop and I have to close it. Other times, it just begin eating a lot of memory quickly and hangs

        Problems are there, and just telling: "most users do not experience this" or "should be your fault, turn off extensions" is a totally inacceptable answer
      • No FF extensions here

        while reading these I noticed that FF was up to 117 megs of memory (IE7 w/ 2 tabs open was at 13)
        I closed six tabs on FF leaving 2 ZDnet blogs open
        only went down to 109
        closed FF
        reopened the 2 blogs
        was at 28 meg
        without opening any more tabs, just reading talkback FF is now at 34 meg
        opened a new tab in IE7 for one of these blogs
        read a few talkbacks
        IE now at 58
        closed that tab
        IE now at 47

        fairly similar behavior from IE and FF

    • Compatibility?

      Why should it be "up to the web developers to make their websites compatible with IE 7?" That's bass-akwards! There are standards already (W3C); the browser be made compatibile to the standards, not the otherway around!
    • Shill away, Tyrone

      "I can feel it"
      Do you think web developer should make their website compatible with IE7? The absolute gall!!! There is a standard out there W3C! People should develop to that, and browsers should render that. NOT the other way!
      I have used Firefox (including the latest 1.5.1) and IE 6. I only use GA, gold, production software. "I can feel it" that Firefox is better than IE.
      This argument reminds me of an old joke.
      An IBM salesman is making smalltalk to his lover saying "how good it was".
      The SAP salesman (put in any currently successful gangbusters company) say to his lover " how good it is!"
      And finally, and constantly, the Microsoft salesman says "how good it's going to be"
      I am Gorby
  • People assume everyone has their problems

    If someone you knew got a flat tire, would you write a story titled "Are Goodyear tires unsafe?" Of course not! So why would you write "Firefox sucks?" based on one person's blog?

    It's common for users, when they have problems, to assume that new releases break everything and are the worst releases ever. This normally isn't the case - usually some aspect of the upgrade went haywire or there's some bug in the user's computer that's preventing normal functioning.

    That being said, to help those who do have problems, the mozillaZine knowledge base has a lot of information. Those concerned with the fact that Firefox takes a fraction more memory than Opera on can read about ways to reduce its memory usage.

    Those who are experiencing crashes can read this

    And all are welcome on the mozillaZine forums.