I decided it was time to see what the developers of Firefox had been doing with my favorite open source browser. There has been quite a bit of hype surrounding this up-coming release. I downloaded it, fully expecting to be blown away. The verdict so far? To quote my 14-year-old:


Why the near apathetic response? Primarily because this browser is being hyped as “Faster Firefox” with “Amazing feats of speed.” Maybe it was my recent foray into Google Chrome on Linux, but this Firefox doesn’t seem fast. In fact, it seems slower than 3.0.  Of course I understand this is a release candidate and I am confident the official release will be much better. But so far, for a release that is getting so much publicity, it doesn’t fit the bill.

This is a .5 release so it’s not considered a “major release.” Because of this, I think the developers are trying too hard to play catch up to Chrome. Let’s look at the features:

  • Improved privacy tools including Private Browsing Mode.
  • New TraceMonkey JavaScript engine.
  • Location Aware Browsing.
  • Native JSON and Web worker thread support.
  • Geko improvements including speculative parsing.
  • HTML5 video and audio element support (and much more).
  • Offline data storage support.

When I look at that list of features I think they could have held off on a few of those features for a major release. The Private Browsing Mode should have been held off as should the Location Aware Browsing and Offline Data storage. These features, to me, should have been included in the 4.0 release. Why? So Firefox can release a 3.5 version that really stands up to their claim of being “fast.” That is ultimately what they are up against with Chrome, because Google Chrome is hands down the fastest browser I have ever used. If there is something Firefox needs to catch up with it is that: Speed.

Features that make me say “meh” again

Firefox 3.5 claims to support audio and video with the help of Ogg and WAV. What does this mean? Not much to the new or average user. What does the new and average user do with their browser? They watch Youtube videos. Can these users watch Youtube videos with Firefox 3.5 out of the box? No. Flash still has to be installed. To these users “video and audio” support means Youtube (and other embedded) videos. This is one of those issues that keeps many users away from Linux – the hassle of having to monkey with their browser to get it to work with certain sites. A new user will see the claims coming out of Mozilla.com and think, “Yay! I don’t have to do anything to watch videos anymore! Linux, here I come.” Problem is, they will be sorely disappointed when they find out that, yes, they do still have to monkey with their browser.

There are other smaller features that are interesting and will probably wind up being lesser used features. One such feature is the ability to drag a tab from one Firefox window to another window. Unless you are a power user you will probably never see this feature in action.

Back up your claims

Firefox is my browser of choice. I will continue to use Firefox. And there are many users like me who will continue to use this open source browser, even if they don’t back up their claim of speed for 3.5. But I do hope they come through on this. For the longest time the browser war had two camps and both camps were neck and neck. When a third party got involved, and showed up both parties by seriously following through with their claims of speed, the war became a bit lopsided. Chrome is the fastest browser available right now. Firefox should stop with the feature bloat and focus their energy on speed. Once they get that on par with the leader, then they can add a few more bells and whistles.

Avoid the forking

It’s been shown, in the open source community, that when someone isn’t happy with the route an application is going (and they have the means) they will fork an application into something of their own design. If Firefox continues to bloat like it is, this same thing will happen at the Firefox 3.5 release point. Someone is going to see how the features are standing in the way of the speed and reliability of the browser, so fork it off, and attempt to make it better. Does that mean they will succeed? Who knows. But the point is, Firefox should avoid giving the community a reason to fork. Find out what the community at large really wants from the application and focus on that. I would venture to say the majority of the at large community using Firefox would say to improve the speed would make the experience far better.

Final thoughts

Don’t get me wrong, I use Firefox and enjoy it. I just want to see it continue to grow and improve. And at the moment the area where Firefox needs improvement is speed. What do you think? Do the developers of the Firefox browser need to focus on speed? Or do you think they are on the right path by adding new features and attempting to give speed a boost?