Why Firefox Has Jumped the Shark

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My previous blog posting about Firefox and Google Chrome kicked up quite a dust storm, and more than a few readers demanded that I explain myself. So here goes:

What exactly is it about Firefox that I find so objectionable?

On a technical level, I agree with practically all the points raised in the Slashdot discussion that I linked to last time. If you're looking for a technical discussion, it's best to read that.

The problem I have with FIrefox is more pragmatic: It just doesn't feel right any more. It feels wrong. Somehow, it's struggling to keep up with the Web the way we use it now, and the way we're almost certainly going to be using it in the future. This is partly about web applications like Facebook or Gmail, I guess, but it's more about the general way things are now. Firefox was perfect back in 2004. It's not now.

It's hard to explain things in more detail that this. If I try, I come up with criticisms about the time Firefox takes to startup, or the fact that the interface is becoming ever more cluttered (the huge toolbar on Firefox 3, for example, or the stupid URL bar that explodes into a list of sites whenever I type even a single letter there). Firefox has become a little too self-important, and started to get in the way of the websites I'm visiting. It should be transparent. Like a good butler, I shouldn't know it's there until I need it.

But somehow all this seems beside the point. Firefox just isn't the right tool for the job any more.

In comparison, Google Chrome feels like exactly the right tool. It's stunning how utterly right it feels. In the last blog posting I made a reference to how we all switched to Google.com from Alta Vista or Yahoo! back in the early noughties. That's how it feels now. Chrome is just better. I'm not making an intellectual decision to switch to Chrome. I'm not thinking that I'll give it a try to see if it's any good. I know it is. The terrain has changed, and suddenly an SUV makes a lot more sense than a sports compact.  

Chrome isn't perfect. The biggest criticism I've been reading over and over and over again is that it lacks a regimented plugin structure. I suspect that if the Chrome developers integrated plugins, they would trigger a landslide of users migrating (especially if they made it compatible with existing Firefox plugins -- just an idea).

But this is why I said that Firefox may already be dead. It's too late. While the Mozilla guys partied like it's 1999 (and maybe they did get a little proud?), the world moved on. I think at certain times the Mozilla team might have started thinking they set the agenda when it came to Web browsing, when in fact it's sites and users that do this.

In this blogger's humble opinion, the only way Mozilla can regain ground that is being lost right now is to once again fork the code. Let Firefox continue on its current path (after all, some folks still use the Web like it's 2004!), but produce an all-new ultra-light ultra-quick application-focused browser. Build in Google Gears, and that new JavaScript engine I keep hearing about. Put simply, look at Google Chrome with envious eyes. It's the only way forward.

Keir Thomas is the award-winning author of several books on Ubuntu, including Ubuntu Pocket Guide and Reference.

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