This is progress?
I know Im not alone in this, either many folks I know who had been suffering through successive Firefox betas were disillusioned with the quality of the release product. Theyre either rolling back to Firefox 3.6 or ditching it entirely.
Me, Id ditched Firefox for Chrome back around revision 3.4 or so. Maybe earlier.
Like too many other software projects before it, Firefox is starting to suffer from the very things it was originally developed to avoid. Its falling victim to the exact stagnation that plagued Netscape before it. The competition not just Chrome, but even lowly old Internet Explorer, now in its ninth version is outpacing it in greater strides.
In short, theres now less reason than ever to be a Firefox user.
Thats a shame, because Firefox isnt a bad piece of software. Its just increasingly suffering from third-wheel syndrome, which it hasnt found an effective way to lick yet.
Google Chrome, by contrast, has come from behind to eclipse Firefox in a whole slew of ways. On the same hardware, it launches and browsers more quickly and with less inexplicable lag than Firefox. Flash doesnt hiccup or stall, and hasnt bombed on me at all for a few versions running now.
Google Chromes add-on architecture is a lot easier to work with and requires a prospective software author to jump through far less hoops. Its page debugging and inspection tools are remarkable; I rely on them constantly. And while running each tab in its own process is more memory-hungry than Firefox, at least I know that memorys being put to good use: if one tab stalls, the rest dont.
But wait: Im not just here to bury Firefox and praise Chrome. If anything, Id like to see Firefox rise all the more to the challenge and give Chrome a run for its money. I just dont see that happening with Firefoxs current development cycle.
Mozilla is talking about ramping up their releases to match Chromes, but Im not sure thats enough. What might be needed are solutions that are either far more precise than what Mozilla is dreaming up, or way more radical than they will aim for.
Make a break from the pastWhen Firefox came along, it was a welcome relief from the tired and stagnant Netscape. Here was a browser that threw out everything that didnt need to be there, gave the user a snappy browsing experience, and offered a far more appealing alternative to Internet Explorer.
The whole reason all this was possible was because Firefox was a radical break from the past an experimental branch of Mozilla that overtook the parent. Firefox left behind more baggage than it kept, and the end result was a massive success story.
Maybe its time to do that again. Lets have a spinoff of Firefox that is to that browser what Firefox itself was to Netscape. Not just another iteration in Firefoxs development, but a clean slate a way to get back to the basics that the original iterations of Firefox prided itself on and were valued for in the first place.
This is something that might only be possible by a third party, though. Only a third party might have the distance required to take Firefox, strip out everything that no longer needs to be there, and start over again with as little of Mozillas existing baggage as possible. The hard part isnt getting the code (Firefox is open source, after all). The hard part would be assembling a development team willing to commit to a project of that scope.
Much as I like to believe in the romance of open source, a project like this isnt something you can do on nights and weekends not in a competitive fashion, that is. That might well prove to be a bigger obstacle than writing the code: finding and supporting people who can do it and get it out the door in a timely way.