Please, Firefox – don’t drop the ball

by Mathew on February 13, 2006 · 12 comments

Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web, who also blogs for ZDNet, put into words something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile now, which is that Firefox might be losing its lead in the browser game. Obviously, I’m not talking about a market-share lead, since Internet Exploder Explorer still has about 90 per cent of the browser market. I mean the cool, cutting-edge kind of lead that has helped make Firefox the browser of choice for geeks and opinion leaders in the geek-o-sphere.

Don’t get me wrong, Firefox is still cool. And even though Internet Explorer 7 has a built-in RSS reader and tabs, two of the things that many people love about the ‘fox, it still isn’t as cool. But it’s getting there. For one thing, it’s fast. And for another thing, it doesn’t suffer from what I (and others such as Nik Cubrilovic of Omnidrive) think is one of the big weaknesses of Firefox – one that has been around since at least 1.2 or earlier – and that is the gigantic memory leak that sucks up RAM every time you open a tab, until pretty soon your browser either crashes or your entire system slows down like your processor just got swapped for a 486.

Before anyone suggests that I try the various fixes that are out there, I have. I’ve tried the one where you open the “about:config” page and edit the minimize function, and I’ve tried editing the memory usage settings. And I know that extensions can cause problems with leaks as well – but then extensions are also one of the main things that makes Firefox so special, since you can add all kinds of functionality. But I feel a whole lot less special about it when my system crashes and I have to restart it.

One of the things that makes what Richard writes so compelling is that we’ve seen this movie before. Netscape was also a kick-ass browser with all kinds of features, but it lost its way and became a bug-riddled pile of bloatware. And yes, I know that a certain software company used anti-competitive tactics to help defeat it – but Netscape also made it easier for Microsoft to win by shooting itself in the foot (and many other more crucial body parts) and I would hate to see Firefox do the same.

Update: I tried disabling the tab-caching feature in Firefox, based on this recent post by Firefox developer Ben Goodger, and it seems to have done the trick. After a day of opening up tabs – I think I have 23 open at the moment, which is about average – my system would normally be so sluggish I would have to quit and restart Firefox, which by this point would have chewed up as much as 350 megabytes of RAM. And now? Total RAM usage is about 90 megabytes and the system (an older Windows 2000 Dell desktop I have at work) is running fine.

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