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BarCampMilwaukee5 Lightning Talk: Firefox 4

At BarCampMilwaukee5 we did Lightning Talk where you get 5 minutes to talk about a subject. (5 minutes only! We time it and when the alarm goes off, you’re done!) I talked about Mozilla Firefox 4, which is/was in beta at the time.

My main point was too let people know that Firefox 4 is much improved over previous versions of Firefox. I know a lot of people who have switched to other browsers (mainly Chrome) due to speed issues, and while speed is important, I don’t think it’s the most important thing.

My suggestion to people was to completely wipe their existing Firefox profile (which could easily be 5 years old by now) and install the Firefox 4 beta, and see how fast it was. Don’t install any add-ons, just start browsing fresh, and see what happens. Keep an eye one arewefastyet.com too, and see how those numbers and lines are looking.

I also touched on Mozilla Drumbeat, Game On, Firefox Sync, and Firefox Home. I probably left out a lot of things I would have liked to mention, but I did this unprepared. Also, you can actually say a lot in 5 minutes.

Special thanks to Chris Larkee for filming the Lightning Talks. You can find them all at YouTube, and Chris said they are all available under a Creative Commons license, but since YouTube has no concept of such things, you’ll just have to take our word for it. You can also find this video at blip.tv

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Chrome Annoyance #137

View Source

Here’s a Chrome annoyance… I don’t like that the ‘View Source’ command is under a menu titled ‘Developer.’

It’s bad enough that it’s a submenu and not readily apparent at a top level, but to stick it under ‘Developer’ seems almost as bad as putting it under a menu titled ‘WARNING!’

I’m sure the people behind Chrome believe they are making things simpler for users, right? I mean, such things should be hidden from the “normal” people, as they wouldn’t understand it.

But the thing is… when I learned to write HTML, the number one tool to aid in learning was the ‘View Source’ command. I know this was 15 years ago, but I’m not convinced a better method has come along yet. (If it has, let me know.) I’ve always liked that the ‘View Source’ menu was up front, easily available, calling out to anyone curious as to how a web page worked. Just a click away…

I always feared that a browser would come out that didn’t include a ‘View Source’ option, but I’m pretty sure even Internet Explorer has one.

Oh, and another thing (consider this #138) why do they hide the protocol? I actually like to know if it’s http or https and have the ability to easily toggle between the two. I guess I’m just a developer and these things scare and confuse normal people though…

(And yes, I know the screenshot is Chromium and not Google Chrome but the UI is the same in both.)

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Firefox 4 is Fast

I’ve been running the Firefox 4 betas, and I’ve been trying to keep an eye on speed, as that seems to be one of the main reasons cited for switching to Google Chrome by Firefox users I talked to.

Firefox

Now, don’t get me wrong, Chrome is fast, that much is true, but I think what a lot of people forget about is the cruft. For many users, it could be a few years since they’ve done a fresh install of Firefox. I mean fresh as in “starting with a new profile” so that all your old preferences, add-ons, plug-ins, bookmarks, and other bits weren’t there.

Right now if you download Google Chrome for the first time, and launch it, there is no cruft. It launches fast. If you’ve been upgrading Firefox over the years and not starting fresh with a new profile… well, there’s cruft.

Here’s what I did, and you can try it at home. Create a new user account (if you’re running Mac OS X, just log into the “Guest Account” that wipes itself after every logout) and launch the Firefox 4 beta. For fun launch Google Chome as well. Both will be cruft-free as they won’t have any previous preferences/profile to worry about, and will be starting fresh.

In my tests, Firefox 4 launched pretty damn fast. If Chrome launches faster, it’s probably by such a small amount that most people could never tell.

Now jump back and forth between Firefox and Chrome and load various pages. Again, don’t use any magical timers, just experience it, and see if you think they are pretty close. They look pretty close to me.

As I’ve mentioned, speed isn’t everything, but it’s nice to see the Mozilla folks stepping up their game and realizing that speed is important to a lot of people. I’ve also read some comments about finding ways to “cleanse” old profile data, to help the folks who have been using the same Firefox profile for years and years, hoping for a bit better performance.

Disclaimer: This is not scientific! I did not run any benchmarks, I didn’t test Javascript engines, or anything too crazy or stressful, I just compared the experience of launching/browsing using completely fresh installs of (the latest beta of) Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. I’d love to hear some comments from a Chrome convert willing to do the same tests.

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Firefox, it’s not me… it’s you!

In our last post, Mozilla Firefox vs. the World, I mentioned that we’d look at the reasons people had for switching away from Firefox. I posed the question on Twitter, which also flows through Facebook. If anyone listed has issue with me reposting your words, let me know and I’ll remove them.

That said, here’s what people told me. I should note that I consider most (but not all) of these people pretty technologically savvy. Most know their way around web development or programming to some degree. None of them are Aunt Tillie.

3 Strikes, and you're OUT!

John Bailey
I switched from Firefox to Chrome. I just couldn’t stand how much slower firefox got with every update. As well as using like 500+MB memory. Chrome is much snappier. Uses less RAM. Each tab is a separately killable process. So no screwy Javascript in a tab can crash the browser.

Samantha Hawley
I gave up Firefox for Google Chrome. For some reason my Firefox would take a long time to load. Once I downloaded Chrome I noticed it was faster. I don’t know why.

Tom Henrich
I dropped Firefox for Chrome months ago. Chrome is lightning fast compared to the bloat of Firefox, even when you have dozens of tabs open. I still use Firefox at work simply because it’s got more developer-related extensions for debugging (and the Firefox versions work… better), but at home it’s nothing but Chrome. I didn’t even bother installing Firefox when I got a new computer. Just wasn’t worth the hassle.

Dossy Shiobara
Speed, mostly. Firefox has gotten sluggish in 3.x, and the only add-ons I had were Firebug and Greasemonkey. I used to miss Firebug’s Net panel once in a while, but Charles.app is 10x more useful and works for any HTTP client – so I don’t miss it any more. WebKit inspector has proven to be a more than adequate replacement for Firebug, too.

Gary Kramlich
Chrome/Chromium until something faster with better integration (good luck) comes out.

Greg Tarnoff
Chrome for speed when I am surfing. Still use Firefox for dev though.

bEx_x3d
Rarely use Firefox now, it’s painful when i do. Poorly rendered embedded fonts/CSS3 elements, my comp go freezepop, ugly interface.

EtherCycle Design
We dumped Firefox for Chrome in our office 7 weeks ago. Separate tab processes. Native Greasemonkey support. Better search integration. Better Javascript performance. Extensions dont crash.

Paul Conigliaro
I’ve moved on to Safari. I use OS X & wanted a more integrated browser. Services are what pushed me to Safari. And there seemed to be less lag. I also do some development and Safari actually has a really good feature set once enabled. Plus webkit is just fun to play with. Plus I got tired of the upgrade cycle. It’s a browser, I don’t want to beta test it. I just want it to be stable.

M. Kelley
I ditched Firefox and use Chrome on Linux/Mac/Windows. It has less bloat than Firefox. Much faster than any of the Mozilla browsers. I do web dev on there.

Chris Jaure
I gave up Firefox for daily browsing, but it’s still my primary development browser. I use Chrome for browsing. I’d switch back if Firefox were faster and had a single search/address bar. And websockets. Websockets didn’t appear to be working in the Firefox beta (with our existing app, not sure if the API is the same).

Vic Wu
I gave up Firefox for Chrome. I just browse. Firefox was giving me login issues with a handful of sites even with saved cookies. I was unable to get a fix for it.

Andy Kant
I switched from Firefox to Safari for general browsing, still use Firefox as my primary debugger though.

senvara
I went back to IE from Firefox about two years ago.

Philip Crawford
I’ve given up Firefox multiple times for Safari, but I keep going back. I mainly prefer Firefox for dev tools, but it’s a memory hog.


Thanks everyone…. There are some great responses in there. A lot of what people seemed to be saying was that Firefox wasn’t as fast as whatever other browser they are using now. (Chrome seemed to be in the lead over Safari, and I’m still not sure that IE comment wasn’t a joke.)

The one area where Firefox seemed to have an edge was with web development tools/add-ons. This has definitely been one of the reasons I’ve stuck with Firefox over the years, as I’ve found an environment that works for me in Firefox, and it didn’t matter if I was using Mac OS X, Windows, or Linux… Firefox (or Iceweasel) worked pretty much the same on each, providing a similar experience and similar tools.

Feel free to leave a comment explaining why you left Firefox for some other browser.

I know, I still didn’t get into why alternatives to Firefox may not be as good as you think they are, but I will… This post on reasons people switched should hold you over for now.

See Also: Cheap Thrills, Speed Kills… and Mozilla Firefox vs. the World.

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Mozilla Firefox vs. the World

Mozilla Firefox must defeat 7 deadly opponents in order to win the hearts of users…

Wait… that sounds like some movie!

OK, but really, what I wanted to talk about is Firefox. The once darling browser of the digital elite, and how it may have fallen from grace.

Browsers

Mozilla was the first popular open source browser, and it stole market share from Internet Explorer. That’s a win. But eventually Safari came along, and then Chrome. Both Safari and Chrome seem to have a mission to simplify things for the user, which, if you know the history of Firefox, is sort of amusing, as it too came about with the idea that the browser needed to be smaller, simpler, and faster. (At least smaller, simpler, and faster than the Mozilla Suite it was replacing.) It succeeded on all counts, and became quite popular. The “smaller, simpler, and faster” formula was a good one.. and others followed it.

I’m pretty sure both Safari and Chrome suggest that they exist to provide their users the best browsing experience possible, and both continue to work towards that goal. It’s a noble goal, and I applaud it… But I don’t blindly believe it.

At a previous job, we used to have this great user experience game, where we could make the point that anything we did could be justified by the idea that it “provided a better user experience.” For instance, we served large banner ads. How could this provide a better user experience? Well, we would say that without the ads, we’d make no money from the sites, and have to shut them down, so obviously a site with ads provides a better user experience than a site that does not exist.

Now in the case of Safari, I’m fine believing that Apple wanted a really fast browser for Mac OS X. Microsoft had abandoned Internet Explorer, and Apple doesn’t always like to rely on others for things, especially something as basic as web browsing. Along came Safari. For Mac OS X. And eventually for Windows. (But not Linux.)

Google used to put a lot of resources into Firefox, but eventually I think they saw that they too could attempt to control the browsing experience, and along came Chrome. Chrome is the easiest way for you to feed almost everything you do online directly into the Google Tracking Machine. Your search history, your browsing history, your bookmarks… everything. If you completely trust Google with all of your data (and I know many of you do, from email to documents to maps to, pretty much everything else!) then I guess you’re fine. Sign it all over to the Google Machine. I mean, they can’t be evil, right?

Now, competition is a good thing… and Safari and Chrome both came along and had some interesting features, and Firefox caught up with some of them, and is still catching up with some of them, but more recently I’m seeing this trend of people switching away from Firefox, as it has me concerned. It has me concerned because I feel like if people are just switching to another browser because it’s “faster” that it’s like saying “I switched to only eating at McDonalds because it’s cheaper!” and really, that’s a steady diet of yuck.

In another post I’ll examine why alternatives to Firefox may not be as good as you think they are, as well as look at the reasons people gave me for switching away from Firefox.

See Also: Cheap Thrills, Speed Kills… and Firefox, it’s not me… it’s you!.