Tag Archives: browsers

Extensions are the Source of Slow Firefox Startup

Firefox 4 has made the browser faster and much more responsive, but its startup time can still be a bit on the slow end. According to Mozilla, the root problem is definitely extensions. In a new blog post, they stated that on average each add-on you install will increase startup time by 10%. So installing ten add-ons could double your browser’s startup time, assuming that none of them are real heavyweights.

They also released a list, based on automated performance testing, of the slowest performing add-ons. Apparently Firebug adds around 74% on to startup time and StumbleUpon 19%. (Unfortunately, it seems like a few of my favorite add-ons are on the list, the indispensable Firebug included.)

Mozilla plans to update their extension repository with warnings that display for add-ons that increase startup time by 25% or more.

Firefox 4 is Here, and it’s Fast

Just yesterday Mozilla released version four of Firefox, bringing with it a new UI and many changes under the hood. It looks and feels a bit like Chrome, but without losing the customizability that has always set it apart from other browsers.

The most noticeable change over Firefox 3.6 is that everything is so much more responsive, and pages render very quickly. The Features page on Mozilla.com lists some fairly impressive V8 and SunSpider benchmarks, which Download Squad says are slightly better than Chrome’s results. It seems like Firefox has finally caught back up to the competition, and hopefully will remain in contention thanks to the more frequent release cycle Mozilla plans to move toward.

The new “App Tabs” that you can pin to the left side (much like the Faviconize Tabs extension) are nice, as well.

The complete list of user and developer features is available in the announcement.

Evil JavaScript Trick: The History Nuker

Remember back in the bad old days of the internet, when pop-up ads and other annoyances were around every corner? Some sites, by some flawed logic, would decide that you didn’t really want to leave their website when you clicked the Back button and would attempt to disable it with JavaScript. The technique they would generally use was to use the “unload” event handler to fire a document.location change, bouncing you back to the same page you were trying to leave. This, of course, was easily defeated by hammering the Back button, as a quick double-press of the Back button could override the JavaScript.

Fortunately the days when people thought that to be an acceptable practice are over.

While reading about JavaScript “hashbang” URLs, I had a thought. An evil thought. You could build a better Back button-disabling script by using the same technique used to enable the back button in AJAX-heavy websites. (Take a look at Google Instant Search’s pagination, or Twitter, to see it in action.)

I thought, what if you looped around a large number of times, changing the URL fragment, until the back button became useless? Not only would it be a pain to click the Back button, say, 300 times, the browser starts to “forget” the previous pages after one or two hundred pages. (They stay in the history, but the Back button only remembers a few.)

So I made a quick proof-of-concept. I used setTimeout() instead of an ordinary for loop, so the browser doesn’t hang when you push a few hundred items onto the history stack and window.location.hash to change the URL fragment.

var theURL = document.URL;

i = 0;
nukeBackButton = setInterval("addAFragment()", 1);

function addAFragment() {
if (i > 300) {
 clearInterval (nukeBackButton);
window.location.hash = "#fragment" + i;

You can see it in action here. It works rather well, though of course tabbed browsing easily circumvents it. (Thankfully.)

Note: I do not advocate the use of this script, and anybody who does use it is a fiendish menace to the internet. This is to be used purely for academic purposes.

The BuySellAds Browser Extension

BuySellAds has just released a new extension for Google Chrome (with a Firefox version on the way) that is aimed at advertisers. It displays a BuySellAds icon in your toolbar, which lights up red when a website you visit has BuySellAds zones available. Clicking it displays a popover dialog that shows the publisher’s zones and lets you buy them out.

I think it’s a neat idea. It makes it easier for advertisers to find and buy ad space, which could potentially result in smaller publishers having their ad space filled.

If you do any advertising, or just like seeing how much publishers charge for their ad space, you can download the Chrome extension here. (And don’t forget, Webmaster-Source has BuySellAds banners…)

Firefox 4 Beta 1 Released

The first beta of Firefox 4 is now available (and can be downloaded here). It features plenty of new functionality and web standards support, including hardware-accelerated video and additional support for the evolving CSS3 and HTML5 standards.

I’m already impressed by the speed improvements. The browser launches a little bit faster and overall seems more responsive. Pages seem to render a lot faster, as well.

I am a bit disappointed that the Mac version, so far at least, looks much more like Firefox 3 than the wonderful mockup from before. I really like the cleaner interface, despite it’s slight deviation from the norm on OS X.

If you want to try it out, keep in mind that it is an early beta release. Beta software is generally full of bugs and glitches, as the whole point of a beta test is to find problems so they can be fixed before the final release. Do not remove your existing Firefox installation and do not use it for anything mission-critical. Also, don’t judge the application too harshly. It will likely be much different by the time of the final release.

Firefox 4: The Tabs Will Be on Top

It seems like Firefox 4, when it is finally released, will have its browser tabs above the URL bar. Google Chrome is probably the most known for this practice, though Apple did originally intend to have the same UI change in Safari 4. (Due to complaints during the beta period, Apple reverted the tabs to their previous position.)

Why is this so important? First of all, it’s different. So there will doubtlessly be complaints. Secondly, it fits with manila folder tab metaphor better. Alex Faaborg, a user experience designer at Mozilla, has a video explaining everything.

The developers are also hard at work optimizing the revamped browser for speed. Some improvements include “multithreaded HTML5 parsing, GPU-accelerated rendering, and a new JavaScript VM+JIT.” Hopefully UI snappiness and decreased launch times are part of the “half or more of the engineering effort on Firefox 4″ that is going toward performance improvements.

The release for Firefox 4 is tentatively scheduled for November 2010, though it’s certainly possible it could change.

The Safari Challenge

I happened across an interesting post by Chris Coyier recently: The Safari Challenge. Besides being a creative example of the “blogazine” concept, it sums-up an issue that has been bothering me lately. Should I be using Firefox or Safari?

I’ve traditionally been a Firefox guy. I like Firefox. I like the peeps at Mozilla, and they do great things. I also like Apple, and when I can, I try to use Apple products. So for an entire week, I decided I was going to suck it up and just try and make the switch to using Safari as my main web browser. No going back and forth, no half-assing it. All-or-nothing. Some people claim to be able to use different web browsers for different things. Not me, I can’t do that. I can’t even have more than one pair of shoes without getting confused.

I, too, have long been a Firefox user. I’ve liked the browser ever since it was first released back in 2004. It’s still my primary browser, even since becoming a full-time Mac user. There are several extensions that I depend on, such as the veritable Firebug.

But it just seems so slow. All of its major competitors are now so much faster than the browser that single-handedly put an end to Microsoft’s decade of browser domination. What went wrong? Why isn’t it being rectified?

Safari is a great browser, but I can’t give up functionality for the speed, however tempting it may be.

Chris’s title, The Safari Challenge, is more apt than he probably thought. That is the very challenge Mozilla faces: to catch up to the speed of Safari and Chrome. Hopefully it will be soon.

Internet Explorer 9 to Render Pages with WebKit

In a surprising turn of events, Microsoft announced that the upcoming Internet Explorer 9 would render pages with WebKit, the open source rendering engine developed initially by Apple. (Google’s Chrome browser uses WebKit, as does Safari.)

CEO Steve Ballmer declared the move to be “a wonderful strategy that will finally place Internet Explorer solidly ahead of the competition.”

The change was unexpected, given the company’s long history of less-than-perfect support for web standards and general disapproval of open source software, though the move to WebKit may be the start of a new, friendlier Microsoft.

Web designers have been voicing their approval, though surprisingly there have been a few opposed to the change of rendering engine. One company in particular, a design firm known as Plaid Mango Design, claims that the move to WebKit will cost them 40% of their income, which is made primarily from the extra fees they charge to develop CSS hacks to enable Internet Explorer to render their designs properly.

Bazinga! April Fools!

Change Firefox 3.6’s Tab Behavior

Firefox 3.6 was released at the end of last month, bringing with it speed and RAM usage improvements and the new TraceMonkey JavaScript engine. However, it also brought a small UI change that some people may not like. When opening opening a link in a new tab, Firefox now uses the Chrome/IE school of thought, inserting the tab beside the one you are currently viewing. The old behavior was for the tab to open on the far right of the stack.

Want the old tab behavior back? There’s a simple about:config fix.

Open a new tab (:P) and type about:config into the address bar. You should end up in the configuration key editor. Paste browser.tabs.insertRelatedAfterCurrent into the “Filter” field. This should narrow down the listing to a single item. Simply double-click the row to toggle the setting from “true” to “false.” You can then close the tab and go back to your browsing.

Is Firefox Losing its Focus?

Firefox is a great web browser, certainly the most extendable. In the beginning, one of Firefox’s strong points was how lightweight it was. It wasn’t full of extraneous features, it was pretty snappy. It did one thing, web browsing, and it did it well. But lately it has become rather heavy, especially in comparison to newcomers to the browser field like Google’s Chrome browser. It eats up a bit of RAM, takes awhile to start, and it just doesn’t feel as quick and nimble as Safari or Chrome.

I have to wonder, is Firefox losing its original focus? Is it time for a massive overhaul?

It has become apparent that the average user values startup time and UI responsiveness far more than extensions or other power features. Maybe it’s time that performance be given the spotlight once again, and extensibility given a back seat until the issue is sorted out.

My ideal browser isn’t Chrome, Opera, Safari, or even Camino; it’s a faster Firefox. I haven’t jumped ship because I would find it hard to get things done without certain extensions. I can’t see Chrome having similar extensions any time in the near future, and I’m not a fan of how Google has given Mac support a lower priority.

Edit: Just two days after I wrote this, Firefox 3.6 was released. Already, it’s a step in the right direction. The latest version uses significantly less RAM.