Friday, September 17th, 2010

Firefox Eats Its Own Tail

what the blazesShortly after embarking on my blogging stint at The Awl this week, I noted to Alex that my experience with the backend seemed extra-gloppy compared with my last stint on the site, and he agreed — the exact terminology involved the phrases "SUCKED BIG TIME" (all caps in original) and "terrible for me lately." What happened? The common threads between mine and Alex's experience seemed to involve WordPress and our browser of choice: Firefox. Could the once-nimble browser be hindering me? I inquired with a tech-savvy friend of mine to find out.

frustrated maura: Can i ask your EXPERT OPINION on something? Why has Firefox been so sucky for the past three weeks?!?!
firefoxylady: I don't know for sure, but my feeling is that this is again the curse of the open source.
frustrated maura: In what way?
firefoxylady: There are so many little pieces that have to fit together and so many continual upgrades. That's why I myself am now using Chrome at work because I got sick of Firefox asking to update every single time.
firefoxylady: I bet your Firefox experience includes, like, Greasemonkey and five million little scripts, right? And WP plugins?
frustrated maura: Hmm. I have seven add-ons; greasemonkey but no scripts.
firefoxylady: Is this your problem?
frustrated maura: Mainly the slowness, and i keep getting logged out.
firefoxylady: Hm. For that I would try clearing your cache if you are willing to re-enter all your passwords…

Which, ugh. (Not to seem like a lazy or ungrateful user or anything.) All that to see if maybe it's not the browser's fault that I feel like I'm swimming through spaghetti-laden water when trying to crank out a little piece of news riffage?

Anyway, this got me Googling through complaints about Firefox being slow (most of which were illiterate enough for me to sigh) and thinking about the Internet's recent-ish past, which seems a lot less recent than it actually is. Has it only been six years since the launch of Firefox, which positioned itself as the nimble browsing alternative and promised an experience that would cast off the "feature creep" of Netscape and lead browsers into a leaner, sleeker Internet? Did it all go wrong when Firefox started offering up those silly backgrounds that could turn your Web browsing into the surface of the moon? (And what happened to Firefox's in-browser calculator? Can we blame Google Instant? I'm 100% fine with blaming Google Instant.)

Firefox 4, which is currently in beta, is set for proper release next month; it's promising many things, most of which involve speed or the illusion thereof. (A simpler interface that users can take in more quickly, message bubbles specific to individual tabs so they don't have to throttle entire browser windows, faster JavaScript, etc.) Perhaps it will solve the problems that I and my hastily surveyed panel of pals are struggling through; perhaps it will introduce a whole new array of issues.

Or maybe something more depressing will happen. Maybe this new version of Firefox won't come close to satisfying the need for speed that so many of us have developed since the browser was first released to the post-Netscape world. 2004 was a different Internet, after all. We were so much more patient then! More than half of Americans were still using dialup at home. "Microblogging" had yet to come into existence; Evan Williams was just quitting Google, and his 140-characters-per-thought baby Twitter wouldn't be birthed for another two years. The iTunes Store was just getting off the ground, which meant that most people were forced to leave the house if they wanted to acquire Usher's Confessions. (That was the last album to attain the RIAA's Diamond Award, or as I like to call it "the accolade that made it plainly obvious the major labels were going to fail.")

I wonder if the lost feeling of speedy browsing and blogging is something not dissimilar to the feeling that came over me when I upgraded from a 2400-baud modem to a 14.4, then got sick of that and moved up to 56k, then got restless and bumped up to home broadband. Have we reached the end of the Internet? Is that all there is?

Or should I just stop being such a wuss, copy and paste my passwords, and do the whole cache-clearing thing? Seriously, there are so many, ugh.

33 Comments / Post A Comment

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Chrome has always been very slow for me. I use it for a couple things, like Google Wave (which, yes, I use), but for everyday browsing, it is unacceptably slow.

I have heard other complaints recently about Firefox, but I haven't had a problem. But that's just me.

(ugh, what is this comment? is this giz? wtf? need more bourbon)

deepomega (#1,720)

Huh. Chrome is like buttered lightning for me. I can't use Firefox anymore – it is so endlessly agonizingly slow, esp on launch.

deepomega (#1,720)

(Yes, it's Giz Fridays, when we all bitch about how pro- or anti-apple the blog is. STEVE JOBS COULD PUT YOU IN A HEADLOCK MAURA)

petejayhawk (#1,249)

I wonder if it's because I'm using a netbook. Perhaps the multiple instances of Chrome slow it down? I don't know.

But it takes FOREVER to load pages – doesn't do them in parts. It waits forever to load a page and then bam – it's all loaded. I could probably tweak it, but I really prefer Firefox's autocomplete address bar to Chrome's (just type part of the website, hit tab, open … for example…loading The Awl for me is: hit CTRL+T, type "thea" in address bar, hit tab to highlight, hit enter.) For loading multiple pages quickly throughout the day for work, personal use, etc., the Firefox address bar works best.

But mostly Chrome is just slow as fuck.

(rambling comment means bourbon has been found and imbibed. GETTING READY FOR KU FOOTBALL GAME WOOOOOOO)

zidaane (#373)

Every web dev uses Firefox for work. I use Chrome personally but it does hate pdf's and it crashes much on flash.

I wonder if the OS matters? My friend just had major problems with FF on a Mac, we went through all this stuff and it ended up being something with the new iOS. I'm not sure what exactly it was (haven't had a Mac in a couple years), but might be worth checking out? Personally, FF3.6.10, lots of add-ons inc. GreaseMonkey, and I'm having no problems (but, like Pete mentioned, I'm on a desktop so maybe the processor covers up a lot of things?)

Matt (#26)

Ugh. Wrong Evan Williams, dude.

Mindpowered (#948)

Chrome was fast, but it lost points for being a little to simple. pdf's confused the hell out of it.

I'm currently on FF and it works just dandy. I'm a bit confused. I'm sure that FF was pitched as way of giving Microsoft the finger, being able to customize your own browsing experience (Hello Adlbock!) rather than to get rid of featuritis.

rather featuritis was OK because it was your featuritis (hence the 5,000,000 little scripts).

Back up your bookmarks!

I've had trouble like that when "places.sqlite" got unwieldly. They cram a lot more stuff in there now, including bookmarks (terrible!). And the preference setting to remember X days of history is a really, really, really loose guideline.

Sorry, I don't have any other recommendations though! I'm trying to remember what I did about it. I haven't used Firefox in a while.

I do remember trying to use a SQLite editor to clear out old crap, since I was really desperate not to give up my habit of going back to old news articles by typing headline fragments into the address bar. Don't try that! It is not fun! (The editing, I mean. The typing thing is great.)

Maxine Faulk (#7,438)

Where are the bookmarks located? I'll be changing jobs soon and want to take them with me.

Go to Bookmarks -> Organize Bookmarks -> Import and Backup -> Backup, then save that file somewhere. Restore -> Choose File on the new computer to bring them back. If you want to keep all your settings, too, check this article out.

KenWheaton (#401)

I hate an extra gloppy back end.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

*call me

Firefox is also somewhat notorious for memory leaks, which cause it to get "sleepy" after a while and need a restart.

Aatom (#74)

I was about to make a lame Netscape joke, then when I looked it up, I learned that Netscape launched the Mozilla Foundation that created Firefox!

Anyway, insert lame Netscape joke here.

Maxine Faulk (#7,438)

However slow Firefox may be it is a hundred times faster than IE.

Ernie Smith (#7,500)

I couldn't stand Firefox's insanely slow speed after a while, so I ditched it. Sometimes, you just need a new profile because the old one gets so much crap in it that it's unworkable.

I switched to Chrome full-time about six months ago and haven't looked back. Though, without some tinkering, Webkit browsers stink with TinyMCE, which is what WordPress uses. I had to do lots of hacking to get my WP site ( to work right.

Also worth considering: Add more RAM. Web browsers nowadays are beasts, and I found that upgrading my RAM made it less of a pain to use.

Ernie Smith (#7,500)

Also, I'll note a couple things about Firefox:

- The new version is going to use hardware acceleration on the PC, but not on the Mac (at least not right away)
- I'm a Mac user and have noticed that Firefox will suddenly start using tons of processor even if it's just sitting around not doing anything.
- There are certain functionality things that just broke after upgrades. Specifically found Firefox's inability to drag photos into photoshop via the Dock to be incredibly annoying. It worked in versions 2.x. But they still haven't fixed it in the latest beta despite the fact that it's been a problem since version 3.0.

One thing FF does while idle is update "frecency," its scoring for what order stuff gets displayed in the address bar. It's making me think that FF Mac's SQLite implementation is slow, because that's what's used to access and store those values.

Most of what I've learned about Firefox comes from which is written well enough for a non-programmer to understand (shockingly).

MrTeacup (#4,677)

Clearing your cache doesn't necessarily mean re-entering your passwords (any more). Just make sure Cookies is not checked when you go to Clear Recent History.

Vegard Olsen (#7,383)

Use a fucking password manager like 1Password or KeePass. A trillion times safer passwords and you only have to remember one password, the program remembers the rest for you.

Weller (#7,501)

The Firefox user experience is now only moderately better than Internet Explorer. The trouble I had with bookmarks was endless, the memory usage, the add-ons, and its slow. Who needs the punishment? I've been using Chrome now for months. It isn't perfect and could use a few fixes but the user experience is much better.

Aru (#7,504)

If you've been using the same computer for a while, your Firefox most likely has a messy profile. This is basically cruft left over from the early days where the project was still growing rapidly. Nowadays they've got protecting your profile directory down. This has worked for other people, and it should work for you:

1 – backup your bookmarks
2 – Close firefox
3 – delete your profile

Yes, you'll have to reconfigure it, but believe me, it'll run like butter.

With regards to a few other comments here: Firefox uses less memory than Chrome, hence the reason the gentleman's netbook ran FF better.

The reason Chrome seems snappier at times is because of the faster JS processing, as well as the separation between the browser window and the page content. Both of these have been fixed in Firefox 4.

tl;dr version: Kill your profile and start anew. All will be well.

atlasfugged (#4,481)

As Clarence Rosario alluded to above, one of the primary causes of Firefox's slowness – particularly after extended periods of usage with multiple tabs opened – is its very poor memory management. It's not uncommon for Firefox to utilize 1.5GB of memory after a few hours of usage with several tabs opened during that time. If you're using other programs simultaneously and don't have a system with sufficient memory, you're going to experience slowness. Since Firefox's memory management is so poorly implemented, simply closing tabs doesn't always rectify this problem. The only option is to forcibly release Firefox's allocated memory by terminating the program (You could close the program normally or terminate it via "force quit" or using the task-manager/activity-monitor). This is a royal pain in the ass if you have a lot of tabs open. My suggestion is to use a plugin called Session Manager. It will give you the option to restore the last browsing session anytime Firefox has been terminated outside the program. You can also save and restore previous browsing sessions. Unfortunately, Firefox will continue to leak memory and you may have to repeat the procedure in a few hours. This issue has been present since at least the beta release of v3.0, way back in 2007. I'm doubtful that it will be resolved in v4.0.

joeclark (#651)

I don't see how this has to do with the editorial purpose of the Awl. "My browser is slow" is a personal-blog post, or a Twit, at best.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

We would have also accepted:

3) FIRST!!11!!

I dunno Joe. I always wondered why FF tended to freeze up. I found this interesting and helpful.

DandyKoufax (#6,590)

Hey JoeClark, you know what else was purposeless and irrelevant? That time you were Prime Minister!

atlasfugged (#4,481)

PS: I've noticed that the most recent updates to Firefox 3.6 have a tendency to utilize a lot of CPU cycles. When Javascript is disabled, however, the CPU utilization drops significantly. I suspect the Mozilla group made some bad revisions to Firefox's Javascript processor.

atlasfugged (#4,481)

Clarification: …have a tendency to utilize a lot of CPU cycles on certain sites that weren't especially problematic before the updates.

PinkPundit (#155)

Why would Mac users use Firefox? Safari runs just fine and it doesn't advise you to update it every other day. And it scores 100 on Acid Test, vs. Firefox's 94 (

Though Safari isn't totally at peace with The Awl. Every time I sign on, the page loads, then reloads (and takes its time to do it). And then I can't break the damn link with Facebook. If I try to post a comment, I get some bullshit error message from Facebook too. I'm sure I'm about to experience it now. In fact, I think I'll play "I Predict" by The Sparks just to have a soundtrack.

numbersix (#85)

Two things:

Windows users bitching about Firefox — Google search for Pale Moon, download, fall in love all over again.

Also, IE 9 (I can't believe I'm saying this) is wicked fast. No, seriously, I promise.

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