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.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

12 Responses to “Please, Firefox – don’t drop the ball”
  1. t make it work. Pete, buddy, bubala, It’s not the Fox’s problem that you can’t handle the intricacies of a modern browser. But this blog isn’t about Pete.  It seems he is just picking up on the[IMG][IMG]meme [IMG][IMG]of [IMG][IMG]the [IMG][IMG]day (week?) Others too are showing their technical ineptitude by dissing on the Fox for what are obviously limitations of their own. Gees guys, get with the program, don

  2. s fairly good. Yes, I miss my Firefox extensions. And yes, I’ll switch back in an instant if the performance improves, but right now Opera and I are getting along alright, thanks very much. PS. I’m not the only one with Firefox woes this week -Mathew Ingram, Richard MacManus, Rob Hof and Nik Cubrilovic are all wondering whether Firefox has dropped the ball. … and I’ve to agree with him on Firefox’s significant performance decline with or without extensions/plugins. Although I’m still using Firefox,

  3. I agree that Firefox uses a lot of RAM – that’s my main complaint.

    I like tabs, but I think the real strength of Firefox are the plugins, that it’s cross-platform, and that it’s more secure.

  4. […] While others are worried that Mozilla may be “dropping the ball” with Firefox I see no real cause for concern. Mozilla has a significant challenge ahead of it in continuing to grow its market share, there is no real immediate danger in Firefox losing its place of innovation and leadership in the browser market. It’s very nature leads Firefox to lead IE in security, even in its current state Firefox is more secure than than IE 7. Most of the memory issues are caused by situations the average user and even most heavy users will never encounter and the list of improvements and enhancements to Firefox 2 should allow the browser to continue to be at the forefront in setting the user interface enhancements in the industry. […]

  5. I agree, Marc — and the extensions and cross-platform aspect are definitely still a plus. But those damn memory leaks are a pain. Admittedly, I probably don’t need to have 45 tabs open all the time, but I just can’t help it.

  6. to be honest, i didn’t realize opening multiple tabs sucked up so much memory. it may explain why my laptop slows to a crawl given i like to have 10 tabs opening at the same time. then again, it may be the laptop!

  7. […] The new version of Internet Explorer (IE7) is currently in beta and reports are that it is stable. Nik Cubrilovic blogged about how the new IE7 is chipping away at the advantages that Firefox currently boasts. Read the full article here. Also read more here, here, here, and here. […]

  8. While the memory leak issues are a problem, I agree with Marc that extensions are what give FF the insurmountable lead over IE in the feature race. But I’m glad IE is covering some ground because a two horse race is better for the consumers.

  9. […] I’ve been working with the IE7 Beta 2 Preview since it was available for download. I have since stopped using it because it is a major memory hog. The more tabs that are opened the more memory it consumes. At one point I had 12 tabs open and the app was taking up a whopping 312 MB of memory. This is obviously not acceptable. I am not the only person to encounter this problem as many others have posted about it here and have also stopped using the app for the same reason. What I find interesting is that my browser of choice, Maxthon, runs on the IE shell. As a result of this Maxthon is running on the IE7 Beta shell right now and while I currently have 10 tabs open the memory being used by Maxthon is only 33 MB. My other gripe with IE7 is the fact that I can’t get, or can’t figure out, how to open a group of tabs on startup. This is something I use quite a bit as each time I open Maxthon I have three sites immediately available, Gmail, Intranet app and a helpdesk app. This make the process of getting down to business much less cumbersome. I’m also not a fan of the RSS portion of IE7, or Maxthon’s for that matter. It may work for some but for me an offline reader (feeddemon in my case) is much easier to use and peruse. With all of that said I am happy with how Microsoft is addressing the next generation of IE. The fact that they are releasing these changes so late in the game is unfortunate. It does seem like something is happening out there though because Firefox may be losing some of its steam. You can keep up on the latest info at the IEBlog. It seems pretty clear that Microsoft is listening to all the comments being made in the forum. This is very welcome and will hopefully help them to be seen as something other than the evil empire. […]

  10. […] PS. I’m not the only one with Firefox woes this week – Mathew Ingram and Richard MacManus are both wondering whether Firefox has dropped the ball. This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 15th, 2006 at 2:55 pm. Trackback from your own site. […]

  11. The last comment demonstrates why open source software will never become widely accepted and why MS still have no serious threat. Most users just want things to work, no messing, no going into setting and tweaking. If firefox cannot do this then people will scurry back to IE. Calling the users stupid is a bit like a mechanic calling someone stupid for not understanding the working of the internal combustion engine.

    Since the last few updates firefox crashes after a few hours use and refuses to be killed, I have to reboot. Personally I will use the most reliable browser, and right now that is IE warts and all.

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