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