Firefox BloatedWired posted an article today discussing what will undoubtedly spark a lot of opinions around the Web. In the article it questioned whether Mozilla’s Firefox Web browser is becoming too bloated, and whether it will be able to maintain its slim identity.

I’ve read so much on this topic over the past year or so that it is starting to wear away at my brain. Wired, however, did a good job covering what I see to be the biggest culprit of performance woes in Firefox:

Statistics are hard to come by, but our own experiences with the browser include crashes, memory hogging, molasses-slow page loads and the spinning beach ball of death. The problems are even worse for Mac users, so much so that last month, Firefox developer Colin Barrett broached the question on his blog: What sucks about Firefox on the Mac?

Certainly, Firefox’s infinitely customizable nature remains one of its most-loved features. But those third-party add-ons can also be the source of many Firefox woes. As users pimp their browsers to the extreme, they introduce a greater potential for performance problems.

I regularly cleanup my own Firefox extensions whenever I find Firefox becoming bloated. One thing that I do recommend you do periodically is create a new profile in Firefox and start from scratch. By creating a new profile you don’t lose any of your extensions, bookmarks, or anything else but at the same time it gives you the chance to evaluate which extensions you really miss. If you find yourself being less productive because you don’t have a certain extension installed go ahead and download it, but keeping a set of checks and balances with the extensions will keep your Firefox running smoothly.

With that being said, there is still no doubt that Firefox has some memory management problems aside from just the extensions. I have tried everything, including using absolutely no extensions, and if I open a fair amount of tabs (around 20) I have seen the memory usage clime upwards of 500MB. For that reason I actually use Opera for my heavy browsing because it hovers around just 100MB, and almost never increases as I continue to open more tabs. At any given time you’ll find that my computer has both Firefox and Opera open because each browser has their benefits.

So what does Mozilla need to do in order to please the community? Actually, I think I know just the thing. They need to start a collection of add-ons/extensions that they develop so that users can pick and choose which new features they would like to add to the browser. I’m not sure if they will be able to implement a lot of the features using only the add-ons framework, so maybe they could also offer two versions of the browser: one that is slim and light with the bare-minimum installed, and another that is feature-packed?

Mike Schroepfer, the Vice President of Engineering at Mozilla, said that “one of the reasons it takes so long to get features in the browser is that any new features should not affect the startup time or performance of the browser.” As an idea that is great, but is that really the truth? If I compare the startup time of Firefox 1.0 versus that of Firefox 2.0 I notice a difference of several seconds in the startup time. With absolutely no extensions installed, even Internet Explorer 7 starts faster than Firefox 2.0 for me.

So what do you think? Will Firefox’s future continue to be bright, or will Mozilla need to start looking into other solutions so that they can offer the idea of a slim browser that has been associated with Firefox for several years?

Note: Firefox still continues to gain in the market share and as of April 2007 it sits at 15.42%.

Read Wired’s Article (Thanks for the tip CoryC!)

P.S. Hope you like the bloated Firefox logo I made. :)

There Are 30 Comments

  1. Yeh! Almost as bloated as this post. :P
    But it’s still my main browser – and I’m still a loyal Cybernet reader!

    For a quickie lookup there’s always (the blistering fast) Opera.

  2. “With absolutely no extensions installed, even Internet Explorer 7 starts faster than Firefox 2.0 for me.”

    Internet Explorer 7 is built into the OS and therefore has parts of it already loaded in the background before launch. This will clearly reduce startup times while increasing wasted resources if one is not browsing.

    As for migrating profile data and creating a new one every so often, I totally agree. I do this about every 90 days. However, since I use very few extensions I seldom encounter slowdowns.


  3. Well I wouldn’t call it bloated, not really, but, it is definitely losing some of its roots. Firefox started, way back when it was Firebird and Phoenix before that, as a lean n mean browser with no extra stuff built in at all. That was the entire point of extensions, the browser itself being extremely lite n bare, n people can add watever they want.

    As they do add more n more stuff built in, they are losing sight of that. Theres an RSS reader built into Firefox 2.0, I don’t use it, have my own, so that could be an extension I don’t need right there. They’re adding microsummarys, I don’t even know what that is, so maybe or maybe not could be something I don’t really need built in too. And the prime example I think is the redesign of the page info box. Sure its all pretty now with icons n stuff, but, how often do people really use that. I’d rather have it kept simple and plain vs a little extra bloat of fancy icons.

    Basically Firefox’s problem now is its just trying to be the “average” persons browser too, so is adding stuff they think everyone will use and find essential. I’d someday like to see two different versions of Firefox, a regular one, and a stripped down lean n mean bare one like the days of old.

  4. I agree with the idea of 2 different versions for Firefox.

    Progress is often associated with new features. They’re a great selling point, especially when trying to attract users from other browsers.

    There are also Firefox users who ask for Feature X, or Feature Y. Mozilla would be foolish not to listen to its own users.

    In the end, it’s impossible to please everyone since many people have opposite desires for their Firefox setup. The idea of 2 different versions would be a great move in addressing this dichotomy.

  5. But with hardware getting so cheap and so powerful, I don’t see why software should still suffer.

  6. i’ve got 20 extensions and 3 themes.

    my firefox ranges around 80mb usually.
    except when flash is open.then it rockets up to 175mb.
    i think flash is the main culprit.

  7. Hey Ryan,

    That’s a great suggestion, the extensions do make Firefox slower and causes other problems.

    I am going to take up your suggestion of creating a new profile and do away with those extensions that i do not require


  8. @xpgeek true they have added a lot of “standard” features in 2.0 that were extensions prior. I think part of this was that people didn’t want to have to go through and install extensions to get the features they wanted. Which brings me to…

    @Chris same here, have a “basic” version where users can add in extensions if they want and may be a “power” version which has a lot of the popular extensions already installed.

    IMHO, I don’t really care about start-up time as I usually launch Firefox first thing then do a few other things. When I am not using it, I just send it down to the taskbar.

    @Ryan what the heck kind of extensions are you using and for that matter what sites are you visiting where your Firefox is using 500 MB? I’ve never topped over 200 MB and I am using 40 extensions (37 enabled) and can at times have up to 20 tabs open.

  9. So, how does one define “bloat”? Is it the number of features? The size of the installation package? Or maybe the amount of system resources the application uses? Fact is Firefox has a handful of features and download size less than 7 MB. The only real problem here is the amount of memory it uses. I don’t think adding a best-in-class RSS reader, support for micro-summaries, or even a built in BitTorrent client will have much impact on the size of installation package or the memory usage if there coded correctly.

    What’s the big deal with features if they have little impact on the applications foot-print (resource utilization and download size)? Especially if there are things that a large part of the community are asking for.

    For those of you who would like to see a “lite” version, what features do you want removed? Or are you purposing a feature freeze? If Firefox was to truly slim down, a lot of features would have to be removed. For example, the integrated search bar, Live bookmarks,
    and the much loved add-on framework. Do you all believe the things come at no cost to the overall foot print? Those icons in the search bar do consume memory you know. And while we are at it, why don’t they go ahead and remove tabbed browsing. That feature surely has the biggest impact on memory usage. Humm…it’s starting to feet a lot like IE 6.

    Fact is many of the features are what make Firefox a great browser, huge memory usage and all.

    For me there has to be a solid combination of usability and performance.

  10. Well firefox regularly uses 200mb of resources, so call it what you want. However, it still is my main browser.

  11. Well it’s certainly less bloated than Opera, and not any more bloated then IE7.

  12. @raindog: I’m sure that part of Internet Explorer is preloaded with Windows, but other browsers, like Opera, still load faster that Firefox for me. Opera even has more native features which is what I find to be really surprising.

    @xpgeek: When they redesigned that Page Info box I was wondering why they even spent the time to do that. I know that I have only looked at that a few times over the last few years and that others probably hardly look at it as well.

    I realize now that they are trying to cater more to the average user since they have gained a large number of the power users already. In order to keep expanding they will need to change who they reach out to, which is part of the reason they started doing commercials.

    As for the feed reader, Firefox technically doesn’t have one. They do have the Live bookmarks that are pretty much bookmarks that automatically refresh based on the content of a feed. Then they also have the feed preview window that will let you preview what a feed looks like before you subscribe to it, but there isn’t actually a feature that will let you read your feeds in Firefox without the use of an extension.

    @Chris Rossini: I’m glad that you also see how two different versions would be quite useful. I think that a very light version would also serve better for those running Firefox from portable flash drives where the smaller an application is the faster it will run. That way when we stick our flash drive into the computer we can have Firefox up and running in a matter of seconds instead of having to wait for it to boot.

    @Lewis: It’s true that hardware continues to get cheaper, but it doesn’t make up for memory leaks. Memory is still very much finite and a memory leak will continue to get worse until the browser is restarted. I have actually seen Firefox go above the 1GB mark!

    @s: Flash is definitely a culprit for increased memory usage, as is Java. I haven’t seen quite the jumps that you have though, I guess that must depend on what you’re using Flash for.

    @Techie Buzz: I’m glad that was helpful for you! Let me know how many extensions you were able to trim off from your list. I’m always curious as to how many extensions people actually have installed but normally forget that they even have them.

    @Fx Extension Guru: It really depends on how long I have Firefox open for. Sometimes it will be days between restarts which I’m sure doesn’t help one bit, and my laptop is put in standby quite often which I’m not sure if that affects it or not. The memory usage in Firefox 3 nightlies seems to be getting better, but Firefox 2 is still quite a clunker when it comes to the heavy browsing that I’m doing.

    I’m constantly opening and closing sites as well which Firefox keeps in its history, so that is just something else that it is constantly updating. I’m don’t think that it is really the quantity of tabs that I have open at any one given time, instead I think it is the constant opening and closing of the tabs that it really doesn’t like.

    @CoryC: As I said in a previous comment above, a stripped down version (but still with tabbed browsing) would server a great purpose for those that just want a basic browser that is both fast and light weight. I would love to have that for the simple fact of carrying around on a USB drive.

    As far as removing nearly all of the features in order to reduce the memory footprint, that isn’t really necessary. Opera has way more native features than Firefox, yet it seems to do a much better job managing its memory usage. A lot of it has to do with Firefox still being based on the old Netscape code, and I’m sure if they started rewriting some of the code they could make a lot of progress when it comes to tackling the memory usage issues.

    @Ian C: As CoryC mentioned, I guess it really depends on your definition of bloated. Your definition must be associated with the number of features a browser has, because in every test that I’ve done Opera consumes less memory that Firefox, and IE is normally lower in memory usage as well.

  13. I dont think its becoming bloated. As I would use that term only for software which has unnecessary features and is not efficient.
    Firefox is problematic and that is surprising when you consider how few features it provides out of the box compared to Opera. They need to refine its code.

    Ian C. wrote:
    Well it’s certainly less bloated than Opera, and not any more bloated then IE7.

    Opera’s efficiency is evident from the fact that it can be ported to run on OPLC as well as Nintendo DS. Its also makes the most efficient use of memory. And its installer is also smaller than firefox (the one without the language packs). Its absurd to say Opera is bloated.

  14. I think it would be snappier if it was run natively in windows api (rather than XUL as it is (I think)). Compare with K-Meleon which is snappier but isn’t as good I don’t think (its run natively in windows). Oh, I can tell snappiness pretty well on my PIII 500Mhz.

  15. This story is getting to be old hat, and was probably instigated by the fx haters.

    I’ve been using fx for close on 5 years and mozilla suite before that. fx has grown and has incorporated more features but it’s still NOT bloatware. Ha! IE7 is a 15Mb download, fx .exe 5Mb download, I wonder what’s in IE to make it three times bigger!!!

    For the last 6 months my fx installation has remained fairly constant. Right now that means 27 extensions, No themes and vlc does most of my multimedia. Flash is off! My memory never goes above 80Mb and is more often around 65-70Mb

    There are plenty of hacks one can add to user.js that affect memory, if it’s a problem. just RTFM

    My only complaint about fx is there is no way to stop live bookmarks updating when the browser opens. Yes I know you can change the refresh interval, that’s not what I’m talking about! I want to decide when and if they ever update. Period.

    fx is a playground, one just needs to understand how the toys work.

    Another thing that bugs me is people complaining about memory. I still only have half a gig of memory and with a few apps loaded, a customised theme/Icons, fx running, I still have in excess of 200Mb free. so what do all these people with 1Gb do with all their memory?

  16. About memory usage:
    I just quote this part:

    These numbers will vary because Firefox is configured by default to use more memory on systems that have more memory available and less on systems with less.

    I use 18 extension, half does very little, like Session Fix, it only adds new button.

    Only Plugin i use and have is Flash, i don’t need others.
    I have even disabled Windows Media Player Plug-in*, i did not have problems with it, but also did not really need it.
    (* I did go to about:config and i did put high number here: plugin.scan.WindowsMediaPlayer )

    And my FF memory usage on this Win XP(512MB ram)
    is always 50MB-70MB.
    I can get it to 100MB and over only if i have like 50 tabs open and every tab has 1000×800 pixel jpg pic.
    But if tabs are closed, memory usage is down also. And i mean, without restarting Firefox.

  17. Anonymous wrote:
    I think it would be snappier if it was run natively in windows api (rather than XUL as it is (I think)). Compare with K-Meleon which is snappier but isn’t as good I don’t think (its run natively in windows).

    This is what I’m wondering too, having used the earlier builds of Songbird. Is Java/JS a culprit?

  18. I love articles that get people “talking”. ;)

    Good stuff all around.

  19. @Morcas: I assume that you have only been using Firefox/Firebird for 4 years? That is how long it has been around -I have been using it for a similar amount of time.

    As for the memory problems that you don’t claim to have, obviously if you have just 512MB, Firefox isn’t going to be able to eat up 500MB of memory like I have had happen. The more memory you have on your system the more it tends to eat up. On my 1GB machine it never really goes above 250MB of memory, while on my 2GB machine it frequently reaches 500 or 600MB of memory. So yes, the memory troubles are very real which is why users do complain about them.

    @Fox: I have seen that “fix” before that you mentioned, but that doesn’t seem to fix things for me. It does make sense that it would be the cause of the problem since I see larger memory usage on systems with more RAM, but I’ve never seen this actually work by manually adjusting the values.

    @CoryC: I love the articles where people share their views as well, because I firmly believe that everyone can learn from them. Most of the time when I read articles on other sites the most valuable information is always sitting in the comments.

  20. I tried songbird but not on a PIII but I didn’t think it was too fast (as I remember but I could be wrong). I think it is CPU usage for me because it acts similarly to Java/JS (it is not noticeable if you CPU is faster than 1GHz). I suspect firefox is snappier on linux but haven’t verified it.

  21. Well I for one am a avid Firefox user. I use it work, on my Ubuntu Linux laptop and on my Win XP Pro desktop. I really don’t see myself using any other browser.

    BTW: Nice image of a fatter fox :lol:

  22. You right Ryan, it is only 4 years, it was late 2003 when I picked up the first alpha. I still have the file in my archive :)

    I’m not the only one claiming not to have memory problems, which by the way I don’t. Seriously, if fx is using 250Mb plus memory, you must have a problem somewhere, As I said fx has never used more than 80Mb of memory, even with multiple taps open, 27 extensions installed and left to run for several hours.

    By the way, I also installed fx on a friends machine, that has 1GB, the memory usage is similar to mine, so having more memory is not an excuse.

  23. @Morcas: I guess it just depends on the installation then. I have Firefox on 3 computers, 2 of which I use frequently and I have memory problems with both. :(

    Maybe it has something to do with the hundreds, if not thousands of tabs I open and close everyday without restarting the browser.

  24. Ryan, please don’t think I am criticising you, believer me, that is not my intention. It’s just that this story pops up every few months or so, and whilst I don’t for one minute say fx is memory friendly, I also don’t believe it’s a ‘hog’

    I’m not on broadband, so I can’t surf 24/7, but I do leave fx open, as I use scrapbook for research, so I’m constantly in and out for most or the day.

    You know I really tried to get fx to use memory. One day I set TMP to allow 10 rows of tabs, I then filled those rows. fx memory peaked at 82Mb. In process explorer I watched for 10 minutes or so, and memory didn’t move.

    I have to wonder if it’s down to extensions and plugins. Every extension I have installed, has been tested individually, to check memory leaks, none do, and all play happily together. Also, as I said, I use VLC for any multimedia, having disabled any MS stuff. I also don’t use flash, shockwave or java. I see no need.

  25. Ryan:

    @Fox: I have seen that “fix” before that you mentioned, but that doesn’t seem to fix things for me. It does make sense that it would be the cause of the problem since I see larger memory usage on systems with more RAM, but I’ve never seen this actually work by manually adjusting the values.

    That page also says a lot about plugins memory usage, like if you have Shockwave plugin, it can eat 100 MB or more.
    And read that Java memory usage -page too.

  26. @Morcas: I know that you’re not criticizing me, I was just saying what my experiences are with Firefox. I can’t believe that you opened that many tabs in Firefox and it only peaked at 82MB! After just 15 minutes of browsing mine is well over that. :)

    @Fox: Their recomendation for elimating the Flash memory problem is simply disabling it by using the Flashblock extension. I don’t think that is much of a solution considering many of the sites I visit use Flash in some fashion. :|

  27. Ryan: if i remember right, Flashblock has allow list, so you can whitelist Youtube and so on.
    But i don’t use it, i use Adblock Plus EasyList filterlist, and that’s better solution for Flash memory usage problems.
    because that way you don’t see flash ads, those are really blocked and not just covered with Flashblock -button, (maybe i did use bad Flashblock -version, because sometimes flash did play little bit and then it was covered with play button.)
    And with Adblock Plus EasyList, you can still enjoy Flash video sites and so on.
    And if you wanna see ads on some sites and support them, you can turn off adblock on those sites:

  28. “Adblock Plus EasyList” should be “Adblock Plus with EasyList”

  29. I’ve never actually used Adblock, but I don’t know if I’m still fond of the whole Flashblock thing yet. I visit hundreds of unique sites everyday and many are to watch videos that are embedded. I guess for my browsing needs it doesn’t work well, but for others it can do just the trick.

    Thanks for the recommedations Fox. ;)

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