Firefox Eats Its Own Tail

what the blazes

Shortly 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.