Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The beginning of the end for Firefox

The web browser is probably one of the most important applications we run on our computers today. For many, it's the one application that remains open during an entire work day and is the means by which we connect, share, troubleshoot, learn, create, entertain and socialize. Think about what it would be like to go through your day without launching your web browser at all. Given that the web browser is such an important component of modern computing, it goes without saying that the stability and performance of a web browser is critical to its success and utility. In the last year or so, the performance and stability of the popular Firefox web browser has started to crumble.

Firefox has a memory leak problem (and has for some time starting around version 4, possibly even version 3). Mozilla's support site even states, "Firefox sometimes uses more memory (RAM) than it should. This can make Firefox slower, and in extreme cases, it can even make Firefox crash." The article then goes on to provide suggestions on how you (yes, YOU) can help Firefox use less memory. It's just sad that the web browser that upset Internet Explorer's dominance back in the early 2000s, and that was once the browser king in techie circles has started to show its age. Now on version 8, Firefox is performing extremely slow and is consuming too much memory for users that run the browser for an extended period of time with multiple tabs open.

For example, I'm running Firefox 8 on Mac OS X 10.6.8 and have the following app tabs pinned: Gmail, Hotmail, Google+, Twitter, and Google Reader (with additional tabs occasionally opened as needed). I'm using the following Firefox add-ons: Ad-Block Plus, Advertising Cookie Opt-Out (Google), Firebug, LastPass, NoScript, RSS Icon (necessitated by Mozilla removing the RSS icon from Firefox), Stylish, User Agent Switcher, Web Developer, and Xmarks. I've had Firefox running since this morning at around 7:30 am and it is now about 4:15 pm. Firefox is currently consuming 1.31GB of memory and spiking the CPU utilization around 15-26% with switching between tabs and user input becoming extremely sluggish:


I tried switching to Google's Chrome browser for a few weeks and noticed better performance, but I found myself missing the add-ons (notably NoScript and Ad-Block Plus, which don't have equivalent-performing Chrome counterparts) that I have become dependent upon over the years. There are also certain features of Firefox that I prefer over Chrome.  Such as when a pinned app tab lights up whenever there's an update, a new email, tweet, etc. Or, the ability to customize the user interface using Stylish to reduce the excessive space between bookmarks on the bookmarks toolbar.

Firefox has been a web browser favorite of geeks and power users in the past due to its rich ecosystem of add-ons and its ability to be highly customized. It has also not suffered from as many security exploits as Internet Explorer over the years. Third party developers have even developed Firefox add-ons to help fix the memory leak issue, which is particularly telling of the loyalty of the Firefox community. Between March 22, 2011 and Nov 8, 2011 Firefox went from version 4 to version 8. Firefox 9 is planned for Dec 20, 2011 with regular release cycles planned up through March 13, 2012 when Firefox 12 will be released. Regardless of the rapid release cycles and promised fixes to the browser, Firefox continues to be plagued with serious performance and stability issues. Let's hope Mozilla is able to resolve these issues soon, otherwise, there's going to be a major migration to Chrome and other more stable browsers. Thoughts?

11 comments:

odd news said...

Firefox is running smooth at mac.

Brian Hall said...

@Odd news, Firefox seems to still have problems regardless of whether you're on Mac OS X or Windows. It also seems to be limited to users who have multiple tabs open for an extended period of time (multiple hours).

Jess said...

I'm having the same troubles. Having a particular problem with Google Reader - left my Gmail + Reader + single news tab open yesterday for a few hours and saw FF8 was consuming 2Gb of memory! Seriously?! I have a very speedy Window machine, run an online business and must keep my browser open all day - I loved Firefox until version 4 and have had nothing but trouble ever since. The memory leak problem worsens with every new release. Sad, because FF used to be the bees knees. Now it's just stinging.

Anonymous said...

Yes, i can actually see the memory consumption creep up in Task Manager when I am not loading a new page. Just idle browser with a few tabs open.

Brian Hall said...

Admittedly, I'm running a lot of Firefox add-ons. Today I'm trying selectively disabling add-ons to see if I can determine if that's what is causing the memory leakage. So far, AdBlock Plus doesn't seem to be the offender.

Anonymous said...

AdBlock plus for Chrome is okay... almost as good as the Firefox version.

But yes, I'm in the same boat. Two months ago I used nothing but Firefox, now that two months have passed, I use nothing but Chrome except when I absolutely need a firefox plug-in that doesn't exist on Chrome yet.

Anonymous said...

Even if Firefox runs 10 times as slowly as Chrome, crashes, doesn't load pages that IE will load, there are 2 reasons to stick with it: Adblock plus and No-script. Or you could simply say, the great add-on support. Add to that I've been a Netscape / Firefox user as far as I can remember ;)

Brian Hall said...

Anonymous, I totally agree! Adblock Plus is not the same on Chrome, and there is a Chrome extension called NotScripts which is similar to NoScript, but it is not even close. As soon as these features become available on Chrome at the same level they are on Firefox, I'll be on Chrome full-time. I just wish that Chrome would let the user customize UI elements such as the bookmarks toolbar (there's way too much space in between bookmarks). That's why I love Stylish on Firefox--you can customize all aspects of the browser using CSS. It's awesome.

Anonymous said...

I am consistently losing my connections (including important financial transactions!) with Firefox crashes! I have been getting multiple "server not found" messages on Firefox when I try to click on a link or click on my bookmarks and I cannot find out why! This was after yet another upgrade and troubles seem to ensue with each of these so-called "improvements." I return to IE browser and do not have "server not found" messages or crashes, so I do not see how my PC could be at fault... Firefox was the best browser but now that it's joined the "trendy" crowd it's gone south! Too bad.

Anonymous said...

Good riddance to bad rubbish. Used by many simply because it isn't microsoft not because it's any better than IE, V10 proves the point, it's awful.

Anonymous said...

The problem is with FF itself. I am running V13 and have disabled all add-ons and plugins. With four windows, with a total of eight tabs, opened memory consumption is pushing 300M - and growing. I know that Mozilla is a volunteer effort, but that is no excuse for sloppy coding.

Post a Comment