Firefox 11 review: Firefox has jumped the shark

Not very fast, really unstable, and falling in popularity, does Firefox have a future?
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Firefox 11: It is not just that good.

Firefox 11: It's not just that good.

Ever wonder where the phrase “jump the shark” came from? It's dates back to the once wildly popular TV show Happy Days. It's widely accepted that the show lost its way, and its audience, in an episode where the lovable hero “Fonzie” jumps a shark on water skis in a pathetic attempt to keep the audience's attention. I wonder how if Firefox jumped the shark when its parent company Mozilla decided to put Firefox on a hyper-accelerated release schedule last summer. Today, five releases later, Firefox keeps falling farther behind Google's Chrome in popularity, it's not very stable, and it can't keep up with Chrome in speed.

I'm not happy about this. I've used Firefox before it even hit the 1.0 mark. In its early days, Firefox was the best Web browser around. It was the most popular open-source program on Windows for years. Indeed, even if you loved Internet Explorer (IE) and wouldn't touch Firefox with a ten-foot pole you owe Firefox a debt of gratitude. It was Firefox, which forced Microsoft to finally kill up the horrible IE 6. Today, it's a different story.

Chrome is the Web browser people look to for innovation. IE, while declining in popularity, has become a respectable Windows-only Web browser. Firefox? It's become an “also-run” operating system.

Take, for example, it's latest release Firefox 11, It's been out since March 13th. I didn't review it immediately because I wanted to give it a long hard look. I wanted to make sure that this somewhat slow and quite unstable release really was as bad as I thought it was. It was.

True, it does have two small new, nice features. First, you can now migrate your Chrome bookmarks, history, and cookies to Firefox. Second, if you enable Firefox Sync you can now synchronize add-on across your Firefox-equipped PCs as well as bookmarks, history, preferences, and passwords. So much for the good news.

I've been running Firefox for several weeks now on Linux, Mac OS X Lion, Windows XP SP3, and Windows 7 systems. It's only locked up once on my Mint Linux 12. On my 64-bit Lion and 32 and 64-bit Windows systems it's crashes on an almost daily basis.

Some of these problems, like crashing when using a locked profile are known to Mozilla. Others, such as a variety of odd-ball problems with Adobe Flash-enabled sites, seem to be all over the place. Some times on some systems Firefox works, sometimes it locks up, and I'll be darned if I can find a pattern. Yes, I know, I know, many people want Flash to just disappear and be replaced by some kind of HTML 5 magic video. Here's the truth of the matter, like it or not, we're going to be stuck with sites using Flash for at least the next three years, and browsers need to be able to deal with that simple fact.

On the more minor, but still darn annoying front, I, and others, have found that Firefox and Gmail don't get along well. I also discovered that Firefox 11 doesn't get along at all well with my Lenovo ThinkPad Synaptics touchpads. Since I use ThinkPads as my laptops of choice all the time, this one is really annoying. Since Synaptics touchpads are often in found on laptops, I'd be willing to bet money this is not just a ThinkPad problem.

On my dual GPU Macs, I've found that WebGL graphics are slower than they should be. At first I thought maybe it was just me, but it's a real problem. This one is due to be fixed in the next release of Firefox.

All that's annoying enough, but then there's the performance issues. As usual, tor performance testing, I ran Firefox against the latest release of Chrome, 18, and Internet Explorer, 9.08, on a Gateway DX4710 Windows 7 SP1 test box. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. It’s hooked to the Internet via a Netgear Gigabit Ethernet switch, which, in turn, is hooked up to a 100Mbps (Megabit per second) cable Internet connection.

On the HTML5 Test, which checks to see how compliant the Web browser is with the HTML5 Web page standard, Chrome won with 377 points out of a maximum 475. Firefox took second with 335. and IE was way, way back in the back with 141.

For my first performance test,  Firefox went up against the other contenders on Mozilla’s own Kraken 1.1 benchmark. In Kraken, which like most Web browser benchmarks measures JavaScript performance, lower scores are better. Here, you'd think Firefox would rise to the top. I mean it their own benchmark! You'd think wrong.

Chrome won easily with a score of 3,718.5ms. Firefox not only came in second with 4,552.7, that's actually worse than Firefox 10, which had a score of 4,342.6ms. IE 9 was left back on the starting line with 16,576.4.

With Google's new JavaScript V8 Benchmark Suite Version 7, where higher scores are better, Chrome, roared by the others with a score of 6,981. Firefox came in second again with a score of 5,728. IE was left eating Chrome and Firefox's dust with a mark of 2,112.

On the the grand-daddy of JavaScript tests, SunSpider 0.9.1, where lower results are better, IE finally won one with a score of 252.7ms. Firefox took second with 283.7ms, and Chrome brought up the rear of the pack with 297.8ms.

Finally, On the Peacekeeper Web browser test suite, which looks at JavaScript performance and also glances at HTML5 compatibility, video codec support and other Web browser features, Chrome won once more. On this benchmark, where higher is better and Chrome took first again with a score of 2,309. IE and Firefox were in a dead heat with IE nosing ahead into second place with 1,626 and Firefox hot on its tail with 1,634.

Notice something? I did. Firefox didn't win a single performance or standardization benchmark. It's been nice Firefox, but enough is enough. Looking ahead I see the big browsers as being Chrome and IE. Firefox? It's dropping back in with Opera, Safari, and other interesting, but not especially popular Web browsers. I hope, I really do, that Firefox can mount a comeback. But, at the rate of things are going, I can see Firefox being canceled from the line-up of must use Web browsers.

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