What Am I Ticked Off About re: Mozilla/Firefox?

// November 17th, 2011 // Rants, tech

What Am I Pissed Off About re: Mozilla/Firefox?

EDIT: I’m very grateful to Mozilla for listening and eventually creating the ESR track for both Firefox and Thunderbird. This ( http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/organizations/ ) effectively fixes all the below for us.

EDIT 12/2/11: heh… Looks like I’m not alone in my thoughts. Comments at Slashdot on Firefox losing market share [image].

Mozilla is fighting an invisible battle against Google Chrome. They’ve implemented a ‘me too’ rapid release cycle for Firefox (and therefore also Thunderbird since they have [again artificially] tied their cycles together) in answer to Google’s rapid release cycle.

And the poop started hitting the fan. Not only was the public confused (“OMG! My browser’s really old! I only have 3.6 and they’re already up to 6! Was I asleep for a year?”) but enterprise IT folks were not amused. We can’t afford to have a browser we just deployed be declared un-supported mere weeks later. Similar remarks here: http://mike.kaply.com/2011/06/23/understanding-the-corporate-impact/

Yes, there is a working group that was put together after Mozilla finally admitted that enterprise IT had a valid point ( http://www.readwriteweb.com/hack/2011/08/mozilla-chair-acknowledges-ent.php )… in August 2011 after the release of version 6… two more major releases have come out since then. But right now there’s just an ESR proposal and… that’s where we stand. In the meantime, time continues to go forward at the same pace and we’re still dealing with actually using the browser. We esentially had ESR, then Mozilla took it away to go tilt at a windmill called Chrome. Now we wait while people talk about ESR… or we don’t wait and we move on.

We want to love you, Firefox! Why won’t you let us love you!??

The browser we’d fought for, the browser that finally took away share from IE, the browser that worked across platform and became popular enough for sites to start to say “OK, we support Firefox too.” That browser’s maker has seemingly turned into a parody of Microsoft trying to keep up with [Apple/Google/etc. and yes, even Mozilla] when they’d clumsily announces after the fact “Oh, yeah, we’re gonna do that too!” Now I have users who used to complain maybe about a website complaining about the browser.

So now, no more stable release followed by a cycle of improvements and bug fixes (all the while being supported because the ordinal number up front hasn’t changed and won’t change until the next release goes stable and comes out of beta). Now it’s release, release, release and pray to bob the bug fixed in 5 doesn’t show up again in the ‘all new super hot off the press’ 8.

And, most importantly, this all loses sight of how the browser wars ended. They ended with Firefox the moral and spiritual victor on one solid principal: Build a better browser and people will use it. Goliath IE was slain (or at leads severely maimed and forced to also get better) by one simple principal: Build a better browser and people will use it. Did I mention “Build a better browser and people will use it”? Not “OMGZ googlez has bilt a browzer and they’s gonna take all our search eyeballs moneys! Run around in circles!!!”

Now Firefox is so effing scared that they’ll lose that sweet Google search eyeballs cash that they’re all but making it a self-fulfilling prophecy in their panic. ( http://www.conceivablytech.com/9419/business/browser-market-share-forecast-update-firefox-losses-accelerate ) Why? Because Google planted that idea in their head when they released Chrome and now Mozilla’s management can’t see past it. It’s like a bug in their brain that’s making them crazy. (“This is Ceit Alpha V!”) They are so fixated on the forest they don’t see the trees catching fire. But the truth is that Google will keep paying out that cash as long as Firefox brings in eyeballs. That is, unless Mozilla gets so panic’d they start acting like headless chickens and _manage to drive all its customers away_!

Which is exactly what I think might be happening. Hell, I’M using Chrome now because I just can’t take it any more (and Safari is in the crapper too as far as I’m concerned – so I don’t have much choice… in a world that used to be all about choice).

Now, my team is forced to sit down and talk about “What browser do we support officially if/when Firefox doesn’t get back on track. Also, we’re screwed email client-wise if Thunderbird ends up under the bus for no good reason.” My server guy… my poor staunch advocate for open source and non-big brothery software is forced to admit that we might have to consider Chrome! He wants to love you, Firefox! Hell, he does love you. But his love is wavering. So what exactly is wrong? Sheesh, where to begin. And, honestly, I’ll forget something. It’s all become a blurry laundry list of complaints from minor annoyances to show-stopping bugs (Stack space errors?? Really?? In 2011?). But, quickly and anecdotally, go google this:
http://www.google.com/search?q=firefox+switch+to+chrome

Those people? They’re not switching to Chrome because Chrome is sexy or amazing… largely you’ll see them saying that they are leaving Firefox because of Firefox’s problems or short-comings, not Chrome’s features. OK, on to my gripes as an enterprise (education, actually, but we work the same and expect the same) IT shop.

* Instability. We’ve gone from a stable Firefox (sure, it had its quirks, but stable enough for us to say “we support Firefox” and be able to stand by it) to having to say “well, if you’re having problems in Firefox, you may have to use Safari/IE for that”. And then bracing for the next release 6 weeks later. (In all honesty, we’re just leaving most people on 3.6.x)

* Page rendering and slowness. This has forced us to downgrade some users who just can’t deal with it to 3.6.x And we’re clearly not alone: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/firefox-36-is-mozillas-windows-xp/16098?tag=rbxccnbzd1
And, tellingly, you’ll still find a link to 3.6.24 on Mozilla’s download site. Even they, tacitly admit there’s still a reason for it to be there:
http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/all.html

* Let’s talk about slowness. How can it be that Chrome got faster and Firefox got slower? ZDnet sure thinks so. Compare these two Kraken scores:

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/ie9-vs-chrome-10-vs-firefox-4-vs-opera-1101-vs-safari-5-the-big-browser-benchmark/12023?pg=5

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/the-big-browser-benchmark-chrome-15-vs-opera-11-vs-ie9-vs-firefox-8-vs-safari-5/16041?pg=5

You’re killing yourself, Mozilla. No excuses, no waffling. You. Are. Killing. Yourself.

* New weirdness depending on if you’re on 6 or 7 or 8. Profiles being trashed, bookmarks reverting or disappearing… What works in 7 might not work in 8. What was fixed in 7 from 6 seems to once again affect 8. And boy is it RAM hungry. But it was i/o hungry before, so that’s probably a step forward for users with networked hime directories… Submit crash report, submit crash report, submit crash report.

* The artificial rapid release cycle creating browser instability is also unnecessarily affecting Thunderbird. For us, Thunderbird 8 is unusable. It _simply does not work for some users_. Add an IMAP account with lots of folders and mail and it crashes at startup. Get someone with less mail and it’s fine (but Lightning may or may not work). Submit crash report, submit crash report, submit crash report.

* The rapid release cycle also tends to break plugin/add-ons, often for no other reason than the fact that this version, which isn’t much different, starts with a different number. We even saw Thunderbird run into this day of release when we rushed to test it. In my case, instead of bringing Lightning with it, it disabled the already-installed lightning add-on and then refused to upgrade (Lightning will be upgraded on next restart -> restart -> Lightning will be upgraded on next restart -> removed lightning manually -> install lightning -> Lightning is not compatible with this version (WTF?) -> clear everything out -> install, go to add-ons, aha! Lightning link in featured add-ons -> install Lightning -> Lightning will be installed on next restart -> restart Lightning will be upgraded on next restart… give up.) That’s… crazy. This is Mozilla we’re talking about…

Dammit… we were pinning our hopes on integrating Lightning into our environment to stem the tide of requests for Outlook for those who just wanted calendaring of some sort. Now we have a 1.0 release of Lightning for a version of Thunderbird we can’t even deploy. ARGH! Because of Firefox chasing the Chrome around like a big dumb puppy chasing a car. (“It must want to eat my food! GRR! Chase!”)

I think Mozilla has lost their minds. Please. Please. Go find your minds and put them back in before you lose all that you’ve worked and fought so hard for (and we’ve supported so strongly) because you got a little scared by some actual competition. This coming from someone who wants you to succeed. Who’s begging you to succeed. I’m your fan. Your cheerleader. And now I’m about to break up with you because… you won’t let me love you!


Additional reading from way back at version 5 (oh, wait, that wasn’t that long ago…)
http://www.conceivablytech.com/8102/business/should-mozilla-ditch-the-rapid-release-cycle-again

2 Responses to “What Am I Ticked Off About re: Mozilla/Firefox?”

  1. Now it’s release, release, release and pray to bob the bug fixed in 5 doesn’t show up again in the ‘all new super hot off the press’ 8.

    We’re actually pretty good at not reintroducing bugs, because most of our bug fixes include automated regression tests. What’s harder is not introducing new bugs in features that used to work correctly. (We use the term “regression” to refer to both categories of new bugs, which can be confusing.)

    I wrote a bit about regressions shortly before we switched to rapid releases.

    As you say, rapid releases mean more opportunities for shipping regressions. But rapid releases also prevent regressions, by establishing a beta audience and drastically reducing the number of crash landings of not-quite-ready features. My intuition is that these effects should about cancel each other out, but given your anecdotes, maybe I should research whether regressions have in fact become more common.

    Our ability to catch regression should improve as more users join the beta channel, for what it’s worth. Which channel are you on?

    Compare these two Kraken scores

    The measured difference in JS speed is small enough to be a measurement error. Opera didn’t even have a release in the period, and its score “changed” more!

    I can’t think of any drastic changes to Firefox’s JavaScript engine (the component tested by Kraken) between Firefox 4 and Firefox 8, fwiw. The biggest speed improvements were to startup and for computers with little RAM.

    Firefox 9, on the other hand, will be the first release to include Type Inference. TI will improve the performance of most JavaScript (in particular, scripts that are statically typed in practice). I think it’s great that Firefox users will benefit from TI starting next month.

    And boy is it RAM hungry.

    In most measurements, Firefox uses the least memory of any browser, starting with Firefox 7, and it’s continuing to improve.

    I’m glad we already shipped 7. Rapid releases are a key part of “making a better browser”, as you put it. We didn’t make the decision based on fear competition.

    The rapid release cycle also tends to break plugin/add-ons, often for no other reason than the fact that this version, which isn’t much different, starts with a different number.

    I think you’ll be happy to learn that add-ons will default to compatible in Firefox 10. The result should be better than what we had in the pre-rapid-release world.

    I’m curious about your thoughts on my more recent post, Improving intranet compatibility, and my other blog posts about rapid releases.

    Also, have you joined Mozilla’s enterprise working group? A large source of the delay in figuring out a “extended support release” strategy is lack of input from deployment admins.

    Your assertion that the new release cycle is more “artificial” has been noted.

    PS I see you’re a fellow Pharyngula reader :)

  2. maggie says:

    Jesse,

    Thanks for the calm cool reply. :) I freely admit that I’ve been very emotional about this given the frustrations we’ve run into recently. SO I appreciate your looking past that.

    Based on what you’ve described, I am indeed looking forward to Firefox 10. I really do want to continue to recommend and officially support Firefox as our browser-of-choice for our users.

    And I hope that we can also see some disentanglement of Thunderbird from the Firefox roadmap. T-bird can be on a cycle, but don’t make it rush to keep up just because it’s time for a Firefox release. Let Firefox be Firefox and Thunderbird be Thunderbird.

    I realize that from a developer’s POV, rapid release has lots of benefits. But for the end user it’s generally disruptive – there’s no (at least from where I sit) disputing that – and doubly so for the IT groups who deploy it. And no, I’m not on the enterprise working group. I’ve never had real call to know of its existence until now. But if I can find the time, I’m certainly going to look into it. Thanks.

    I’m going to wipe the slate, so to speak, on myself and a couple of users next week-ish and move them to 8.0.1 Firefox and T-bord and see how it goes. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    PS – And yes, I’m one of the Boston SKeptics organizers and a regular TAM attendee. :)



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