Chad Perrin: SOB

21 July 2009

recent Firefox troubles

Filed under: Geek,Mezilla — apotheon @ 10:46

News flash: I still think all browsers suck, to varying degrees. Some of the following is my fault, as you’ll discover as you read, but I think a significant chunk of the reason it happened is probably just the overly complex edifice it has become, pursuing competitiveness with IE.

Months ago, when I should have upgraded my FreeBSD 6.2 system to 7.something, I didn’t. The SigO was planning to get a new laptop, and her old laptop is exactly the same model as my laptop. I figured I’d just wait on upgrading the FreeBSD version, and after she got her new laptop and migrated everything to it, I’d just install FreeBSD from scratch on her old laptop, then migrate my own stuff onto that. There are a number of minor reasons to do things that way, but nothing really major.

Well . . . there were some issues with getting her new laptop set up, at first. We finally got those ironed out sufficiently, and she was playing World of Warcraft on Debian again. More time passed as she hesitated to completely commit herself to the new laptop, waiting to see if problems would arise with the way the system was installed, so that it wouldn’t be too difficult to reinstall stuff if there was a problem — which meant she kept the old laptop as her primary. In the meantime, my own laptop waited.

I don’t blame her at all for the problems I’m currently having with Firefox, of course. It’s not her fault in any way. If I had similar problems getting a new laptop set up to my liking, I’m sure I would have done much the same that she did. I might have moved a little faster, but I’m also a bit more experienced and comfortable dealing with technical issues with Unix-like systems.

Disclaimer aside, recently a Real Problem has arisen.

Firefox 3.0.x has had some issues keeping up with my browsing habits, of late. Apparently, it doesn’t like it when I keep 100+ tabs open all the time. When the number of tabs starts getting higher, Firefox 3.0.x starts getting crashy. Luckily, it’s quite good at recovering all those tabs the next time I start it after a crash, so nothing is lost other than time.

I heard good things about the speed of Firefox 3.5.x, and hoped some of the minor issues with Firefox 3.0.x might have been fixed, so I decided it was time to upgrade. I backed up my .mozilla directory and went about the process of moving to a newer Firefox version. Then, when I tried to start it up, it failed.

There’s a note in the /usr/ports/UPDATING file on FreeBSD saying that you have to load the sem module to make sure that FreeBSD won’t crash. I tried to make sure that would load, but it turned out that (for some incomprehensible reason) it wasn’t on my system. It was in the source tree I had on the computer, though, so I compiled it and then made sure it loaded. Of course, Firefox still crashes.

I found some references to the fact that a few people (particularly on FreeBSD 6.x) are having some problems with HTML 5 content crashing the browser, so I used the FreeBSD ports system to install the NoScript extension. Suddenly the browser started, and ran stably! Excellent! Now, I just had to deal with the fact that all my tabs from the last pre-upgrade session were gone. Luckily, I had backed up everything in the .mozilla directory, which should include those tabs. I haven’t bothered checking on that, though — I’ve had other things to do for the last couple days. I guess, if the tab session isn’t saved, I’ll just deal with it. I’ll probably need some of those tabs from the previous session today, so I’ll find out for sure later today, I think.

Okay, so now I have Firefox 3.5.x on the system, and it doesn’t crash when it’s running with NoScript.

It does crash if I allow any scripts from reddit, which basically means I can’t use reddit, since everything one can do at reddit beyond reading requires JavaScript, evidently.

It crashes if I allow scripts here, at SOB. Luckily, WordPress hasn’t become so bloated and ridiculous yet that it doesn’t work without JavaScript enabled (though for some stupid-ass reason Flash is required to make the stats page work).

Oh, yeah, and I tried re-enabling to Awful Bar (the people at Mozilla call it the Awesome Bar) again. I figured there’s no way the new operation of the address bar in Firefox as of 3.x was as bad as I remembered, and I probably only needed to get used to it to find it useful. After playing with it for twenty minutes, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s even worse than I remembered. It literally couldn’t find anything I wanted it to for URL completion. Nothing. Terms that used to come up automatically, at the top of the list because they’re the terms I used most often, simply failed to come up at all, no matter how many times I tried to “train” the Awful Bar to find those terms for URL completion instead of whatever irrelevant crap it was finding instead.

Of course, I can’t turn off the Awful Bar completely, unless I just want to do without any kind of address bar. It’s baked into the browser now. What I actually do is use the “oldbar” extension. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a lot better than the Awful Bar. It takes more training to come up with useful results than Firefox 2’s address bar, but at least it can be made to come up with useful results. I turned on the oldbar extension again, and figured that’d solve everything.

Actually, I discovered that just turning on the Awful Bar again (or, more accurately, disabling the oldbar extension) had wiped out all the “training” I had put into the oldbar-enabled Firefox 3. I had to start over! It still isn’t quite up to snuff, though I’ve been working pretty diligently; it still tends to give me URL completion options in the wrong order almost as often as in the preferred order of likelihood that I’ll want a given result. It’s clearly on its way to being back to the state it was in before I decided to give the Awful Bar another chance.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Firefox sucks. The only positive things I can say about it are “At least it’s better than Opera,” where I can slot in the names of almost all other browsers in the world. Problems aren’t particular to Firefox and Opera: all Web browsers suck to varying degrees. About the only Web browser I’ve used that I both don’t find more loathesome than Firefox and can use to do all the things I tend to need to do on the Web from day to day (including research for work-related purposes) is Chrome, but the Chromium browser (that’s the open source project behind Chrome) hasn’t been ported to FreeBSD yet (or even finished getting ported to Linux), so that’s not really an option for my primary browser choice.

There is, supposedly, someone working on ironing out the crashing problems with Firefox 3.5.x on FreeBSD (which are apparently pthread related), but I don’t know what progress is being made on that front. I hope it’s progressing to a point of “solved” very soon.


  1. What is really, truly depressing, is that I do not seem nearly as frustrated or angry with Internet Explorer as many of the people I read seem to be with Firefox. Maybe I’ve been trained to accept mediocrity (which is always a very real possibility, given how much time I spend with “enterprise class software”). Maybe I just don’t use my Web browser the way others do, or maybe the Web sites I visit are simply less taxing on my browser. No idea. I too often run dozens (on occassion, hundreds) of tabs, without issue. IE feels quick enough to not annoy me. On the rare occassions I have a stability issue, 90% of the time it is Flash or Acrobat that is the underlying culprit (although IE could use a better isolation between the tabs and the browser, so I can kill an offending page without killing the whole browser). I turned off ActiveX years ago (I’m fairly sure that it is off by default except for the “intranet zone” anyways), so the vast majority of the security problems (not all of them, of course, but most of them) are mitigated. And despite IE’s historic lack of adherence to various standards, its market share is high enough that the vast majorit of Web designers account for its quirks anyways.

    Like I said, it’s depressing. I know that IE is a wretched piece of software deep in my heart. But every time I hear about the “Firefox experience” from a heavy user like yourself, I feel like maybe IE truly is the better choice.


    Comment by Justin James — 21 July 2009 @ 11:56

  2. Oh, I use IE every now and then too — for testing purposes. About every other time I open it, I end up wanting to tear out my hair in frustration. Even when IE “works”, it’s a terrible, terrible choice of browser, without even getting into the subject of the terrible security characteristics of the thing. There’s also the simple fact that, to use IE, I’d have to make MS Windows my primary OS — and trying to do anything aside from basic browsing (for testing purposes) or playing a computer game on that platform is an exercise in frustration for someone who has really gotten used to the conveniences of X Windows on top of a Unix-like OS.

    Comment by apotheon — 21 July 2009 @ 02:01

  3. I am simply baffled at how/why Web browsers are so consistently awful. For all of the “good features” folks tout about their browser of choice, the core functionality always is lacking. This is a field that is roughly 20 years old at this point. Compare any of the major RDBMS’ to Web browsers right now. Or the state of Java, Ruby, or .Net (all of which got their starts around the same time as HTML, or a bit after). Or Linux for that matter… in the early 90’s, Linux was a pathetic joke.

    So why is it, that despite the vast fortunes in time and money poured into Web browsers, we don’t have any decent ones?


    Comment by Justin James — 21 July 2009 @ 10:37

  4. I wish I knew. It seems like the only browser developers who have the right idea about software design have the wrong idea about interface design — and vice versa. Then, of course, there are those who have the wrong idea about both, but that’s another matter entirely. Anyway, you’d think these things wouldn’t be mutually exclusive, but in practice it seems like they are.

    Interestingly, it seems like Google has a some of both, with Chrome, but the Chromium project still suffers from a bit of feature-diarrhea, and as competitively stable as it is, the thing is still lacking some key capabilities.

    Comment by apotheon — 21 July 2009 @ 11:23

  5. I used to love firefox but after the 3.x release and even 3.5 i’m truly disappointed. The same with you the biggest problemI saw was the frequent crashes. For now I’ll stay with firefox 2.x, faster and less headaches.

    Comment by Tech Blog — 23 July 2009 @ 10:32

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