Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Firefox annoyances, rebuked

Via Ed Bott comes this article listing 10 annoyances with Firefox from the point of view of someone who is used to using the Mozilla Application Suite. As an avid Firefox user and a former Mozilla Application Suite I feel I must comment on these points.

Complaint 1: No language packs
The author complains that whereas it was possible to download the English version of Mozilla and then add a language pack to localise it, this is no longer possible in Firefox. Instead, you download an entire localised build. I believe this was changed to simplify and streamline Firefox’s preferences. I suppose it could be a good thing to allow different users to have different language settings, but maybe that’s what an extension would be good for. The author also complained that some of the localised versions are out of sync – some localisations don’t have a 1.0.3 version, for example, which is somewhat regrettable and a fair point. He also suggests making a multi-language version of Firefox available which I suppose is something to think about. All in all, a reasonably fair criticism.
Complaint 2: Security updates are delivered as new versions instead of patches
A good point. While I think the issue is slightly more complex than the author would make it out to be, it would be nice to have signed XPI patches for updates as well as new versions. This does lengthen the QA time but should encourage people to update more often. Others have criticised the update notifier for not being obvious enough and certainly that could be improved too, perhaps by ‘roadblocking’ the home page if an update is available and the user is using an old version.
Complaint 3: Offer an application bundle of Firefox and Thunderbird
Again, an interesting idea. I wouldn’t call this an ‘annoyance’ though.
Complaint 4: Thunderbird should be renamed ‘Firefox Mailer’
Erm, this is about Firefox annoyances, right? Hmmm. Anyway, the author suggests that by calling it Firefox Mailer MoFo would be building on Firefox’s brand recognition which would encourage more people to try Thunderbird. I suppose it could work in theory but may just lead to confusion. In any case, there is much more competition amongst email clients (Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora plus corporate webmail) so Thunderbird is bound to be less popular. That’s coupled with TB not getting the same kind of community and grassroots support as Firefox, through such sites as Spread Firefox.
Complaint 5: Firefox, Thunderbird and Nvu should use a shared GRE
The GRE – Gecko Runtime Environment – was supposed to be a series of shared libraries that these applications could install once and then share, saving memory. This hasn’t been adopted and instead each application has Gecko embedded in it – only the original Mozilla uses it right now. I think this was done because the applications run faster this way but I might be wrong.
Complaint 6: No splash screen
This was deliberate, if I remember correctly. It was decided that if Firefox was so slow to start up that a splash screen was needed then the application needed improving. On my machine at least, it is fast enough to justify not having one, and certainly other browsers like IE and Opera don’t provide them.
Complaint 7: No Client Customisation Kit
The author says there should be a way that allows ISPs to deliver their own customised versions of Firefox, with custom themes, bookmarks, extensions etc. As an end user I’d rather not be using some customised version of a browser, and in any case, as the author states, there is a tool called FFDeploy which does some of this. It’s not an official tool though.
Complaint 8: No FTP Upload
This is not a core feature and in any case there’s FireFTP which adds a reasonably well-featured FTP client to the browser.
Complaint 9: No tabbed sidebar
The tabbed sidebar was ugly and confusing. Get over it. And how is it “self explanatory”? I can’t see a reason why it’s at all necessary – the current sidebar implementation seems fine to me.
Complaint 10: Outside voices have very little say in Firefox development
Oh really? I’d like to see some evidence of that. Last time I checked, Google, Sun Microsystems, IBM, RedHat, Linspire and a few other companies were all involved in Firefox’s development in one way or another.
Complaint 11: An instant messenger app
Again, why? What’s wrong with an external application? And aren’t there extensions that do this already? (correct me if I’m wrong)

There are some good ideas here but I think the author is stuck in the ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ mindset of the Mozilla Application Suite and not the ‘less is more’ mindset of Firefox. By relegating less-used features in Firefox to extensions, it has resulted in a cleaner, faster, less-confusing browser. You only have to compare the number of panels in Mozilla’s Preferences dialog with the number in Firefox’s Options dialog to see why.

18 Comments

  1. So you used to be an Application Suite? 🙂
    More seriously, I think your rebuttal is correct. Ed does seem to have missed the point on a few of the issues he raised.

  2. Regarding complaint 9: An additional (and IMO the most annoying) problem with the Fx sidebar implementation is that it breaks compatibility with existing sidebar tabs. The sidebars that sevetal parties provide for Seamonkey/Netscape don’t work in Fx anymore, as the reload of the sidebar window happens in the main window and not in the sidebar anymore.

  3. Ugh. Spash screens are the devils tool.
    I have no understanding why anyone would want to use them. I hate them with a passion.

  4. NRT, just a correction. Ed (that would be me) simply posted a link to the original article, which was actuall from The Inquirer. For the record, I think the list is mostly pretty silly and agree with Neil’s critique. So if anyone “missed the point,” it would be the Inquirer.
    Ed Bott

  5. Re: Complaint 11 – Quite correct in your response. There is Chatzilla for those who wish to use IRC, for instance.

  6. FTp Upload IS a Core Feature.
    NS4.X and IE can do that for example.

  7. Firefox == a browser.
    Mozilla Suite = a suite.
    What’s so hard for them to understand this?
    Splash screen… I don’t one thanks, who would!? I mean really.
    FF + Thunderbird + FTP + IRC == Mozilla Suite!
    I /do/, however, agree on the updates. I don’t like how it downloads the install again, and simply runs that. Pointless to have integrated updates if this is how they’re outputted.
    The article is laughable. I certainly had a little chuckle.

  8. RE complaint 1: Debian has language `packs’. Thus mozilla-firefox gives you the en\_US version and then you install mozilla-firefox-locale-en-gb for en\_GB.
    Most of those complaints are along the lines of “why isn’t this cool feature there by default?” when they’re mostly available through extensions.
    Couldn’t this person find real problems and moan about them? Like all the keyboard a11y problems. Or how chrome breaks so easily.
    Said Matti:
    > FTp Upload IS a Core Feature.
    Of an FTP client.
    Firefox is a web browser. FTP wasn’t part of the web last time I checked.

  9. Some terrible complaints. Firefox is a browser, not a suite. And i never understood the suite concept in the first place. The only connection between an browser and mailer i can think of is the occasional mailto: link.
    The localisation thing is a joke however, localisation goes a bit deeper than just language now as there are alterations in what search extensions to supply as some aren’t applicable to other countries, this makes the development a little trickier to automate. Because of this the localisation isn’t done in house and the way it has ended up is a huge security concern. For instance if you installed the en_uk (or is it en_gb) version you didn’t get the update until about 2 weeks after the patch was available. Which isn’t cricket. I’ve decided to go back to the US edition so that i don’t miss out.
    I agree with the updates too. If i was to hazard a guess i’d say they work the way they do because of some of the linux roots. But then, if windows had something like apt or rpm there wouldn’t be a problem.
    I don’t agree with planting libraries everywhere unnecessarily. Long gone are the days when a few MB was an issue and we have all experienced DLL hell, whether Linux or Windows. For instance, if you were using 1.1.3 of firefox, but decided to use a beta of the latest trunk of thunderbird because you were dying for one of the new features their gecko requirements would conflict and there would be huge problems.
    If i was to mention my person firefox gripes…
    1. It’s looking to me that the way themes are built (XUL i think?) is far too daunting for most people. The less technically minded, who also tend to be the most artistic haven’t a hope in hell. Which i think is evident by the lack of any decent themes on the theme site.
    2. The RSS support in Firefox is a joke. It was obviously rushed out just so that they could promote RSS support in the marketing gumph. Heck, the bookmark based representation barely even makes sense. The way it’s done in safari is so much more useful and yet is also so obvious. Why, if the code for translating RSS is in there and it works didn’t they go the extra mile and make it useful?

  10. Complaint 2: Security updates are delivered as new versions instead of patches
    I think I can somewhat understand the reasoning behind the actions here. Firefox is an open source application, and thus it can be compiled with different options, To provide patches to an EXE requires that the EXE is an “officially supplied” one. Not to mention Linux and the rest.
    Of course, it’s far from impossible to do that. Firefox could, for example, detect when it was compiled manually and offer links to the source archives (or a source patch) instead. But that would mean having different things happening for different people, and the one basic thing about UI development is that when different things happen, people get confused. Having the same thing happen to everybody is one good way of gaining acceptance.
    I’m not arguing for or against this either way, just pointing out at least part of the reason that this could be the case.

  11. Complaint 5: Firefox, Thunderbird and Nvu should use a shared GRE
    The GRE – Gecko Runtime Environment – was supposed to be a series of shared libraries that these applications could install once and then share, saving memory. This hasn’t been adopted and instead each application has Gecko embedded in it – only the original Mozilla uses it right now. I think this was done because the applications run faster this way but I might be wrong.

    Care to explain how you came to this conclusion? One shared runtime environment means it only has to load once, less swapping etc. which will result in a speedup. The only problems I can see hindering GRE’s adoption is maintainability issues and would produce a lot of problems that firefox isn’t ready to handle yet.

    Suggestions/feedback would be appreciated.

  12. Anko: I believe it has something to do with ‘static linking’ which in tests did make the application faster. I can’t remember where I read this though.
    In any case, moving to the GRE would only offer an improvement to people using more than on Gecko-based product. The adoption figures for Firefox in comparison with Nvu and Thunderbird would suggest that the vast majority of people just use Firefox, so using the GRE would offer them no advantage, and increase the chance of ‘DLL Hell’.
    It is, as you say, quite possibly the maintainability issues which actually lead to this decision.

  13. I thought work was being done on using a common GRE. In fact, I thought the 2.0 versions were tentatively set to run on XULRunner, which is fairly similar as far as I can tell.
    I thought the same thing with the security patches / updates. It seems to be pretty common knowledge that this isn’t the most efficient way to distribute patches, but its not possible to do it any other way yet. Work is being done. These two complaints sound more like whining than anything.
    Customising a version for a special corporation or ISP seems like it would be incredibly easy to me too. Make the theme you want. Replace the files for the default theme. Build it with an installer for your customers. You could even just take the version you have and zip it up and then write your own installer that unzipped it. Not an impossible task for someone who’s selling internet expertise to customers.

  14. I think one of the main reason behind the lack of shared Geckos right now is that those Geckos are DIFFERENT! The Mozilla source is still split into the Seamonkey and Aviary branches. The suite is built from the Seamonkey branch, Fox and Bird from Aviary. In addition to that split, there’s lots and lots of #ifdef MOZILLA_PHOENIX still scattered all over the tree, where the original Phoenix effort sought to eliminate code not used in the standalone browser in an effort to reduce code footprint.
    While work is done on bringing the code back together, it will take a while. And until it is done, sharing Geckos between the standalones and the suite is not possible.
    In addition to that, I’m not sure how similar the Bird and Fox Geckos are, either. What’s more, DLL Hell is already upon us as far as Gecko is concerned: there are far too many versions out there. Not only the X releases (1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, …, and that’s not counting the alphas, betas and RCs), but various custom-built versions that differ only in a checksum made from their checkout date and the compile options, and perhaps some manual code modifications and patches and …
    In other words, it’s next to impossible to really share code between the various products. As great as it would be.

  15. Spash screens are the devils tool. […] I hate them with a passion

    You hate splash screens because you never see Suite’s one. It is not always-on-top.

    It was decided that if Firefox was so slow to start up that a splash screen was needed then the application needed improving

    Altought developers could make Firefox load in 5 seconds in a 486, they will never know how many extensions a user have installed…

  16. Interesting BBC article “Do Firefox browser bugs matter?” from Bill Thompson
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4472219.stm
    Not necessarily in line with the discussion here, but sort of adds to it.

  17. Regarding about fireFTP, I don’t think it is meant for prime time yet. Look at support here, the third item reads:

    fireFTP is using a lot of CPU/memory and it's slow with downloads!
    I'm trying to optimize the program, and I am aware of this problem.

    So, I think using Firefox itself to access FTP with limited features still the recommended ways to download anything from FTP servers, otherwise get a third party FREE ftp tools, there are plenty.

  18. In one of the environments where I’m using FireFTP, I cannot install software and the provided FTP client – WS_FTP Lite – sucks. FireFTP seems to work well.