What Should Mozilla Do As Firefox 4 Performance Problems Persist?

by Ostatic Staff - Apr. 05, 2011

Mozilla's Firefox 4 browser was one of the hotly awaited open source releases of the year so far, but reports continue to flow in about slow performance, and even inexplicable crashes. During the long beta cycle for the new browser, there were far fewer performance issues, probably because many users didn't have their full arsenal of Firefox extensions running. Now that they do, many are claiming that extensions themselves are slowing the browser down, and Mozilla is making some concessions in this direction. The company has a running list of the slowest performing extensions, available here. In the face of these problems, what is the best course of action for Mozilla to take?

Mozilla's disclosure of slow performing add-ons is admirable, but let's not forget that browsers are one of the most competitive application categories, and the open source Chrome browser from Google is breathing down Firefox's neck in terms of market share. Chrome is widely lauded for performance, while Firefox 4 is taking criticism precisely on the performance front. 

Datamation suggests that Firefox development itself needs a reboot:

 "Let’s have a spinoff of Firefox that is to that browser what Firefox itself was to Netscape. Not just another iteration in Firefox’s development, but a clean slate – a way to get back to the basics that the original iterations of Firefox prided itself on and were valued for in the first place."

Actually, one of the best things about previous versions of Firefox was that they achieved a good balance between browser performance and availability of add-ons. Chrome has closed the gap in this area, though, as more and more popular extensions are available for it, and it is a very fast browser. 

One thing to keep in mind is that Mozilla has promised a new, rapid release cycle for Firefox that will more closely resemble Chrome's development cycle. In fact, there are four versions of Firefox slated to arrive this year--far more than Mozilla ever delivered in any previous year. Upcoming versions may solve some of the problems with add-ons, but not necessarily quickly. And, it is essential for Firefox to run extensions smoothly, since doing so has been one of the perceived advantages to the browser for years.

Mozilla's publication of a list of slow-performing add-ons seems to imply that the company is resigned to the fact that user configurations of the browser can bring its performance down significantly. Instead, Mozilla needs to address performance problems from the ground up, so that Firefox retains an optimal combination of performance and extensibility. Until Mozilla gets that combination right again, without pinning problems on users, the door for Chrome to continue gaining market share while Firefox's stays flat is wide open.