Open Source

Firefox 54: A resolution that brings near perfection

Jack Wallen eats a bit of crow about his initial reporting on Firefox 54, but addresses why open source software still needs to be made smarter, and more user-friendly.

Image: Jack Wallen

Let's talk about the latest release of Firefox again.

When last we spoke about the open source browser, things were looking fast, but shaky on one particular certain sight (cough, cough, Facebook.) Predictably so, I was contacted by numerous Firefox developers about the issue, with the hopes to resolve the issue. Turns out, I owe the developers of Firefox a bit of an apology, as the issue wasn't square on the shoulders of Firefox itself.

At least not on the Linux platform. My experience with Firefox on Windows 10 (which was a brand new install and a brand new profile) was still a bit lagging. After my updated experience with Firefox 54 on Linux, I am now inclined to believe the issue with Windows 10 was due to underpowered hardware. However, the machine in question did meet the minimum requirements for Firefox 54:

  • Pentium 4 or newer processor that supports SSE2
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 200MB of hard drive space

After spending a bit more time with Firefox on Windows 10, I would have to conclude the issue is the hardware and not the browser (as Firefox runs about as well as Chrome or Edge). Either way, Windows 10 isn't my daily driver, so I'm going to focus on the Linux side of things.

It should come as no surprise that the issue was very quickly resolved. Much to my surprise, the problem at hand was a combination of a corrupt profile and an extension that no longer seemed to want to function properly. The extension in question was the User-Agent Switcher, which was causing the latest Firefox user-agent to present the browser as an out-of-date version. As to the broken profile? This was a profile I'd been using for years, never to any ill effect. But, chance be had, something in the soup decided to sour and made for a rather nasty experience with Facebook. To get around that issue, I had to create a new profile (more on that in a bit) and then, everything changed. I had an instance of Firefox that was smooth as buttah, fast as a cheetah, and as stable as Stonehenge. Point in fact, I've never worked with a version of Firefox this good — and I've been using Firefox for a very, very long time.

Why are fixes necessary?

Before I continue singing the praises of Firefox 54, let's talk about the fixes that had to handled, and why this shouldn't be necessary. First and foremost, I am tech-savvy enough to troubleshoot these problems. After 20 years of using the Linux operating system, I'm accustomed to tweaking, configuring, tinkering, and troubleshooting. But the average user (especially the average Facebook user) is not. In fact, quite the opposite applies. And I firmly believe that every company that produces software needs to take that cross section of users strongly into account. These are users that:

  • Want their software to "just work"
  • Do not have the skills to troubleshoot
  • Use a bare minimum of features in most software
  • Will turn back to their old software if the new software fails in any way
  • Generally fear change
  • Most often do not know where to turn when there's a problem

It's one thing when a developer reaches out to someone with the technical prowess to troubleshoot an issue. Take those same troubleshooting steps to the average user and the process shifts to a session troubleshooting the troubleshooting. On top of that, end users shouldn't have to troubleshoot a new installation or an upgrade of something as critical as a browser. That idea doesn't only land square on the shoulders of the Firefox developers, but all developers.

I've been experiencing this more often than I prefer lately. Most recently, I've discovered the OpenShot video editor, a piece of software I use regularly, to have reached a point that it only barely meets my needs (and, in some instances, is unusable). Although I might have the ability to troubleshoot that issue, I don't necessarily have the time; and so, I turn to another solution. One that just works.

Unfortunately, this happens quite a bit in the world of open source—and it's something that needs to change. Many developers assume their users are typical for the Linux community, in that they are not only accustomed to troubleshooting, but enjoy the challenge. If Linux is to seriously gain any ground on the desktop, that focus needs to change. Developers, across the board, need to shift to an "average user first" perspective; otherwise, they run the risk of losing said users.

Does that mean they need to start "dumbing down" their software? Not at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. I would posit that developers need to "smarten up" their software, such that it is better capable of dealing with issues similar to what I faced.

Enough with the soap-boxing and grandstanding. What about that fix?

The profile manager

To some, uttering those two words sends a dread chill up the spine. Over the years, I have had to help so many users get beyond a broken Firefox profile. On the plus side, at least there's a tool, built into the software, that can handle the problem.

To run the Firefox profile manager on the Linux platform, you need to start Firefox with the command:

firefox -p

When the profile manager opens (Figure A), click on Create Profile and then, when prompted, give the new profile a name and (optionally) choose the folder to store the new profile. Click Finish and Firefox will start up with the new profile.

Figure A

Figure A

Creating a new profile for Firefox.


Believe it or not, this will go a very long way to solving any problems Firefox may be having. The one caveat to this is that you're starting your browser from scratch. All of your bookmarks, saved passwords, extensions, everything, is gone. However, along with those customizations, the issues preventing Firefox from working properly will vanish as well. In my case, the corrupt profile and the incompatible extension were no longer in play

And that brings me to now and my revised summation of Firefox 54. I can sum it up in a single word:

Wow.

It's not much of a word (just three letters in fact), but it perfectly describes my experience with the issue-free iteration of Firefox 54. This is, by far, the fastest and most reliable release of Firefox I've ever used. In fact (as I stated in the previous article), it's faster than Chrome—an impressive feat. Firefox hasn't been my default browser for quite some time. That was partially due to my using a Chromebook as my daily mobile driver. As that is going to soon change, I can now happily return to Firefox as my browser of choice. Firefox's improvement of performance and reliability on an almost exponential level makes for a no-brainer of a switch.

If you've been away from Firefox for some time, I would invite you to return to the open source browser, effective immediately. I would recommend you start the browser from scratch (as well as configure multi-process support, as explained in my previous article on Firefox 54) and enjoy an unrivaled speed and reliability.

Hats off and crow eaten

To the developers of Firefox, my hat is off to you and the helping of crow on my plate. If the latest release is any indication as to the trajectory of the flagship open source browser, Firefox is destined to return to the greatness it once enjoyed.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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