Firefox Is Heading Toward Trouble

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-03-08

Firefox Is Heading Toward Trouble

I love Firefox.

It is, without a doubt, my favorite browser ever, and Ive used almost every one that ever rendered a Web page. No matter what the operating system—Windows, Linux, heck, even NetBSD—one of the first things I do now with any of my boxes is to install Firefox on it.

Im not alone. There have been over 25 million downloads of Firefox since version 1.0 hit the streets in fall of 2004. It has come out of nowhere to shrink Internet Explorers share of the Web-browser space for the first time in years.

Firefox is also gaining software support. In addition to smaller open-source add-on programs, mainstream helper applications like Yahoo Toolbar and Google Desktop Search are now coming to Firefox.

Last, but never least, Firefox is more secure than Internet Explorer.

So, whats not to like?

Well, several things if you must know.

First, I said Firefox is more secure. That doesnt mean its perfectly secure. You still must practice safe Web surfing to avoid phishing attacks and the like, and make sure to keep the browser patched up to avoid known security problems like the IDN (International Domain Name) bug.

Unfortunately, Firefox hasnt done a great job of making it easy to get its patches.

Click here to read about Mozillas recent security upgrade, Firefox 1.0.1.

While Firefox does have an auto-update feature, the rollout of its first security patch, Firefox 1.0.1, was delayed for several days because of server overload problems.

Then, when it was rolled out, it was done slowly—20,000 downloads an hour—so as not to overwhelm the servers.

This is not good. In February, according to WebSideStory, Firefox was up to 5.69 percent of the Web browser market. Mozillas avowed goal for Firefox is to get it up to 10 percent of the market this year. If Firefox does hit those kind of numbers, its back-end infrastructure must be built up or theres no way it can mount a serious threat to IE.

Quality assurance back at the servers also needs improvement. When the Mozilla Foundation first started pushing the automatic updates to Windows users out on Feb. 28, what actually ended up happening was that the Windows update was served up to Mac and Linux users!

Boy, did that do them a lot of good!

Besides, this update isnt really an update. Its a complete new installation of Firefox 1.0.1. Can you say annoying?

To further confuse Windows users, the default installation of this patch leaves you with entries for both the now-gone older version and the new one in Windows Add or Remove Programs control panel.

Its a known bug thats been around since June of 2004 and its still not been fixed. I am not amused.

Next Page: Is Firefox burning out?

Is Firefox Burning Out


Its not just Windows users who are facing a rocky upgrade route: Firefox 1.0.1 wasnt available for Linux and Mac users at all until several days later.

You would hope that as Firefox popularity grows by leaps and bounds, these kind of problems would be fixed. I wish I could be so optimistic.

Mike Connor, a core Firefox developer, writes in his blog, "In nearly three years, we havent built up a community of hackers around Firefox, for a myriad of reasons, and now I think were in trouble. Of the six people who can actually review in Firefox, four are AWOL, and one doesnt do a lot of reviews. And Im on the verge of just walking away indefinitely, since it feels like Im the only person who cares enough to make it an issue."

If Firefoxs reviewing developers, the key people of any open-source project, have burned out on the project, Firefox is in a lot of trouble.

Forget about trying to get new and better versions out. Theyre not going to be able to keep up on security fixes and bugs. For example, it used to be that if you ran Firefox you never saw annoying pop-up ad windows.

That was then. This is now.

Today, instead of pop-ups, there are sites that feed you pop-unders: advertising windows that deploy under your current Web browser window, which you then see when you close your window.

Its annoying, it needs to be fixed, and if Connor is correct, I dont see that happening anytime soon. A Firefox extension, Adblock, can make the pop-under problem more manageable, but you must set it up manually for it to work.

Forget about Microsoft coming out with IE 7 to challenge Firefox. If Firefox rots from the inside out—the way so many other programs, like the original Netscape browser, did—then its not going anywhere much beyond where it is now.

How will Microsofts Internet Explorer 7.0 release challenge Mozillas Firefox? Click here to read more.

Heres the long and short of it. If the Mozilla Foundation and Firefox friends like Google dont start spending money—right now—to hire more programmers, more project managers and more servers, it wont matter how many ads in the New York Times Firefox supporters take out, Firefox will have already reached its high tide of popularity and we can only wait for the ebb to begin. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

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