Is Firefox becoming bloated?

An article on Wired suggests that Firefox has become too bloated for its own good.

An article on Wired suggests that Firefox has become too bloated for its own good.

When Firefox launched in beta release five years ago, it burst on the open-source browser scene like a young Elvis Presley -- slim, sexy and dangerous.

Since then it has attracted millions of users, generally set the agenda for browser development and unseated Microsoft's Internet Explorer as the de facto monopoly in the field. But, with Firefox 3.0 poised for release this summer, the "IE killer" is in danger of morphing into an early Fat Elvis, if increasing numbers of die-hard fans turned reluctant critics are any guide.

Through my PC Doctor website and blog I regularly hear from people who are having problems with Firefox and want some tips on solving them.  These problems fall into one of three broad categories:

  • Crashes
  • Over the top memory consumption
  • Slow performance

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I've seen these problems myself (both on systems with and without any add-ons) but my limited experience suggests that version 2 of Firefox is a lot better that 1.5 was.  When I was using 1.5 the massive memory footprint and random crashes put me off using it regularly (and I was seeing these crashes on more than multiple systems, again some with add-ons, some not).  Now with 2.0 most of those problems are gone and I tend to use Firefox a lot more (I regularly have IE, Firefox and Opera open and running at the same time, especially when I'm researching).  Problem is, people have long memories and if they were burned once they might not give Firefox another chance.

There's also a question mark over whether all the additional features Firefox now packs make the browser less secure than it once was.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  One thing's for sure, the attack surface being presented to attackers is now much bigger than it once was.

But let's go back to the question of bloat.  Is Firefox 2.0 bloated?  My personal belief is that no, it's not, but it's changed a lot since the first release.  In the beginning Firefox's strong point was being small, fast and secure.  This appealed to a certain type of user.  Now, looking at the latest releases and the beta of Firefox 3, there's little doubt that the "lightweight" browser ethos is a thing of the past.  But you can see their point – in order to gain a wider audience Firefox had to add features to compete with Internet Explorer.  You can't please everyone all the time.

Articles like the one on Wired make it clear there is a certain segment of long-term Firefox users who aren't pleased with the direction the project has taken and they want a browser that's more like the original Firefox.  Well, Firefox is open source, so if there's enough interest in the project, there's a good chance it'll happen.