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This is progress?
I know Im 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. Theyre either rolling back to Firefox 3.6 or ditching it entirely.
Me, Id ditched Firefox for Chrome back around revision 3.4 or so. Maybe earlier.
In short, theres now less reason than ever to be a Firefox user.
Thats a shame, because Firefox isnt a bad piece of software. Its just increasingly suffering from third-wheel syndrome, which it hasnt 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 doesnt hiccup or stall, and hasnt bombed on me at all for a few versions running now.
Google Chromes 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 memorys being put to good use: if one tab stalls, the rest dont.
But wait: Im not just here to bury Firefox and praise Chrome. If anything, Id like to see Firefox rise all the more to the challenge and give Chrome a run for its money. I just dont see that happening with Firefoxs current development cycle.
Mozilla is talking about ramping up their releases to match Chromes, but Im not sure thats 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 pastWhen Firefox came along, it was a welcome relief from the tired and stagnant Netscape. Here was a browser that threw out everything that didnt 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 its time to do that again. Lets have a spinoff of Firefox that is to that browser what Firefox itself was to Netscape. Not just another iteration in Firefoxs 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 Mozillas existing baggage as possible. The hard part isnt 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 isnt 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 oftenMaybe 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 its not clear which goals are being targeted for what versions or if theyre all being attacked simultaneously. Whats more, theres a lot of things discussed here that still dont 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 doesnt add up to much right now given that most people are just surrendering and using Facebook to sign into everything.
(Its a nice goal for Mozilla to promote more open-ended identity frameworks, but to my mind its 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 thats the culprit. Dont 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 its just moreIts not hard to read Mozillas 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 doesnt 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 dont want to see is Firefox become to browsers what Ubuntu has become to Linux distributions. I dont 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 dont want to turn my back on a browser that did a lot to make the Web what it is now. But softwares about what works, not where your hearts at and right now, for me, Chrome is what works. Firefox remains under wraps.