It’s just a tool

I gather that Mozilla has named some marketing person as interim CEO as they search for a replacement who would be acceptableeffective.

I don’t care, really. Mozilla is an organization that provides support for Firefox, a tool I use. I’m using Firefox because it is the browser that irritates me the least at this time. I used Chrome previously, but stopped when yet another unexpected-and-suddenly-appearing design change made it marginally unusable.

I appreciate the hard working souls who work on the browsers and the specifications that form the basis for the technology implemented in the browsers—most of whom don’t work for Mozilla, or Google for that matter. Most of them don’t get paid for their work, either.

If anyone deserves passionate support, it’s the people who labor on the technology that goes into my browser. Anything else is just organizational politics benefiting some corporate entity.

In the meantime, I use Firefox. I don’t do so because of loyalty or because of some cause. It’s just a tool.


Firefox: Continuous scrolling and continuous freezing

This morning I logged into Twitter, opened my HTML5 list, and started scrolling down the page to see what new outrage/toy/publication/conference was generating excitement today. Of course, I use “page” loosely, since Twitter uses the “continuous scrolling” technique to retrieve and display older tweets. You never actually get to the end of the page, you just keep getting more tweets.

I dislike the “continuous scrolling” technique with a passion that I usually reserve for governors who harass teenagers who tweet. Many times I have scrolled to an interesting looking tweet, which is suddenly moved out of view because of an awkwardly done “page” update that pushes the previously scrolled tweets out of view. The same happens, though not as abruptly, with Facebook and Google+—a less than clever use of technology to replace what the developers seem to think is beyond their users: to click the damn “More” link.

Worse than losing that tweet that piques my interest, though, is that lately when I’m using Firefox to scroll down the page of updates, the browser freezes up. At times, it can seem to unfreeze itself if I just patiently wait for it to deal with whatever internal upset it’s currently dealing with. Other times, I’ve had to kill the browser.

In the past few weeks, though, I’ve had Firefox freeze up to the point where I couldn’t use my Windows 7 system. I can’t bring up the task manager to kill Firefox. I don’t get any response from any key combination. The only recourse I’ve had in these circumstances is to hard boot my system.

Hard booting a system is not a good idea, and it’s one I shouldn’t have to be taking. However, when your system is frozen and your laptop fan is whirring like mad, you take desperate measures. Desperate measures that came close to losing my system today.

I hard booted up my less than one year old Toshiba laptop after a Firefox/Twitter freeze this morning, except that rather than the Windows prompt asking me if I wanted to start Windows in Safe Mode, I got the ominous message that the system could not find my hard drive. I tried again in a couple of minutes, but received the same message. Waiting a short time later, I was able to get to the Windows restore/repair dialog, and tried an automatic repair. This seemingly failed, and I was faced with having to restore my system using the Toshiba recovery program, which basically overwrites your disc with a brand new installation of Windows.

Before taking such a drastic step, I tried to restart my system one more time, and this time, success!

Right now, I’m backing up all of my writing research folders to my internet site, and various other files to external USB drives. I’m also using Google Chrome to write this, because, frankly, I’m wary of using Firefox for anything at this point.

It is not the browser company’s fault that web sites use JavaScript to create some chi-chi clever effect that taxes the browser’s resources, and that most of us don’t really need, and didn’t really ask for. However, it is the browser company’s fault when it can’t deal with whatever good or bad JavaScript it encounters. No browser should allow any JavaScript to freeze the application up so badly that it has to be forcibly closed. And no browser should ever be so badly coded that it can literally crash the OS.

The only extensions I use with Firefox are Firebug, AdBlocks, and Web Developer Toolkit. I suppose one of these three could be to blame for the freezing problem, but it’s the responsibility of the browser company to ensure that its extension environment is solid so that an extension can’t cause these kinds of serious problems.

Whatever happened to my favorite Firefox of bygone years? Whatever happened to the rock solid but still innovative browser I once depended on? In its desperation to beat out Chrome and it’s aggressively pushed schedule to release new browser versions seemingly every few weeks, Firefox has become increasingly erratic and unstable. I could live with the mouse cursor landing in the web page just below a form field when tabbing (and having to click on the field to realign), but I can’t live with the freezing and crashing.

After all these years, I’m going to have to switch to another browser. Right now, I’m typing this post using Chrome, but I’m not overfond of Chrome. It’s not a bad browser, but the same issue with Firefox also applies to Chrome: aggressive release schedules and seeming indifference to stability. (“Stability? We don’t need no stinken stability!”) Apple’s support for Safari on Windows seems tepid, at best, which leaves Microsoft IE and Opera. The newer versions of IE are actually fine products, and Opera seems to have found the right point between implementing the latest gewgaw and delivering a stable product—but dammit, I’m used to Firefox.


A browser is more than script

Chrome released on Linux, and IE8 released from beta. Now people are beginning to question Firefox’s increasingly bigger piece of the blogger pie. Case in point, PC World.

Mozilla have several grand aims, and there’s much to be admired, but they’ve forgotten how to make a decent browser. I feel plenty of loyalty for them, because they’ve done more than anybody else to further the cause of open source software in the real world. But when I tried Chrome, as incomplete as it was, I realized I’d found a replacement for Firefox. As soon as it gets to beta under Linux, I will switch to Chrome. No question. It’s just infinitely better. It’s like when we all switched from Alta Vista (or Yahoo!) to Google back in the early noughties. The king is dead! Long live the king!

I was asked my opinion about the future of JavaScript applications this week, especially in light of the blazingly fast Chrome. I was rather surprised at the emphasis on JavaScript, because a browser is more than just a machine to consume script. A browser must also render a web page, as the designers built her; must display photographs accurately, hopefully using any photographer supplied profiles; to render the more complex SVG, in addition to the simpler Canvas; to handle complex file types, including video files, not to mention supporting different markups, such as XHTML in addition to HTML; to provide the utility to enhance the user’s experience, up to and including any extensions, such as the one I use to collect a page’s RDFa. Why, then, are we reducing the browser to nothing more than a device to to render HTML and JavaScript?

Firefox is working on its scripting engine, but it’s also been improving its graphical rendering engine, including adding in built-in support for color profiles, as well as improvements in support for CSS3 and SVG. Chrome has no support for color profiles, it’s graphical rendering engine sucks, as can be seen if you look at CSS3 curved corners in the browser, and it regularly fails my SVG tests. Try this SVG file in Chrome, but don’t blame me if your CPU spikes. Luckily, it seems that Chrome just aborts SVG files it can’t handle now, rather than fry the CPU. Then try the same page in Safari or Firefox; though both render the page slowly, they do render it—Chrome only rendered the file the third time through. It aborted the page the first two times. And the quality of the rendering? Well, see for yourself.

Look at my photos at MissouriGreen. Most use a color profile. Now, the photos look relatively good in Chrome on Windows, because I’m favoring a sRGB color profile to ensure maximum coverage, but if Chrome is ever implemented in the Mac, the photos will look plain, and washed out, as they do now with Opera. Not so the latest Firefox, and Safari.

Lastly, look at this site, or Just Shelley in Chrome, as compared to Safari, or Firefox, even the latest beta of Opera. I make extensive use of box and text shadows, as well as CSS3-based curved corners. No browser is perfect in its implementation of CSS3 curved corners yet, but the anti-aliasing in Firefox and Safari is vastly superior than what you’ll find in Chrome. I have noticed, though, that Chrome has improved its text and box shadows: it doesn’t plaster them half way down the page, now.

Why, then, do we talk about how “superior” Chrome is? And how Firefox is dying? When one looks at all of the browsers from an overall web experience, only IE8 is worse than Chrome.

I apportion blame for an over-emphasis on fast script over everything else equally between Google and the current HTML5 effort. I found it telling that, at the same time people are lambasting Firefox for “slowing” down, and praising Chrome for “speeding” up, Douglas Bowman is leaving Google primarily because the company relies on engineering practices, at the expense of fundamentals of design. One doesn’t have to stretch one’s intuition in order to see that the “machine” is also the emphasis in Chrome. But the same could also be said about the HTML5 effort: an emphasis on mechanistic aspects, such as client-side storage and drag-and-drop, at the expense of a more holistic environment, such as including support for SVG and ensuring continued support for accessibility—though I think this week, at least, client side storage has been pulled for inclusion…elsewhere.

Speed is important in a web browser, speed and efficiency, and Firefox isn’t perfect. Newer versions have been locking up on my Leopard machine, to the point where I now prefer Safari on the Mac. If I had to take a guess, Firefox has threading issues. It also needs to work on isolating extensions to the point where they can’t harm the overall browsing experience—or at least put something in place so that one knows certain extensions can adversely impact on browser performance.

At the same time, Chrome desperately needs to improve its graphics rendering capability. As this occurs, and as Chrome gets loaded down with extensions, I don’t think we’ll see the same fast speeds when rendering pages we see now.

It’s all a question of balance—the best browsers are the most balanced browsers, and sometimes this means slower page loading in support of better page rendering. As it is, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera are all giants towering over the anemic and disappointing IE8. If we want to talk about a browser “dying”, I have a better candidate in mind than Firefox.


Congratulations to Safari/Webkit

Congratulations to Safari/Webkit for being the first browser in the wild that provides a completely passing Acid3 test.

My own results:

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I’m really getting excited by how much The Big Three (Safari, Firefox, and Opera) are improving, not only in standards support, but also innovation and application speed. It’s as if the web has suddenly shed its cocoon, unfurled glorious wings, and is ready to fly.


Future Firefox and color management

Before the build copy of Firefox (known as “Minefield”) upgraded itself on my Mac, dying a horrible and immediate death in the process, one other change I noticed in the upcoming version of Firefox is that color management is now on by default.

I also noticed, again before the crash and burn death, that the new version seems to be much more efficient and fast compared to the old.

As pointed out in comments, Bobby Holley has an excellent discussion on color management and the state of Firefox. Bottom line, in the interests of performance, the new version of Firefox will have color profiles turned on, by default, for “tagged” images: images with embedded color profiles. I started embedding profiles for my pictures about 2 months or so, ago, in hopes that more browsers will follow this path.

It would be nice to have full color management, but I think support for color profiles in images is a good interim solution. This is also the approach that Safari uses, and hopefully Opera, too, eventually.