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Four Firefox Annoyances to Fix for 4.0

Firefox is the perfect browser, right? Well, it's probably the best on the market -- but that doesn't mean that it's perfect. Firefox has several annoyances -- some large, some small -- that we'd like to see fixed for 4.0.

Even though Firefox is my browser of choice, it’s not perfect. The 3.5 release has all kinds of great new features, but it still has a few flaws that could use addressing.

Actually, Firefox has a number of areas where it could be improved — but in many areas the fixes are provided by extensions. For example, lots of people disagree on how Tabs should be handled, so there are plenty of extensions that modify tab behavior.

But there are also some problem spots that aren’t easily fixed by extensions. Let’s take a look.

Ever-changing Context Menu

The Firefox context menu is a handy thing, except when it isn’t. I’ve found that right-clicking on the average Web page is sort of a Russian Roulette experience. If you click on an image, you get one menu, if you click on a link, you get a different order, and if you click on the page itself you get a third menu. If you happen to have any text selected, then it’s yet another menu.

Since it’s a contextual menu, it does make sense that it’s actually contextual — but it also violates the principle of least surprise, because it’s easy to accidentally hover the mouse over the wrong element.

The thing is, 90% of the time I want to click the “Back” menu item — but if I accidentally have the cursor over a link or image, I get something entirely different.

Ideally, the menu could always have certain items — like the “Back” entry — in a fixed position, and rotate the rest of the entries.

Better Bookmarks

You can tell what Firefox gets right and what it doesn’t quite get perfect by the number of add-ons for any given area. And there are quite a few add-ons that address bookmarks.

Firefox’s Live Bookmarks are a great idea, but even though the feature has been available in Firefox for some time, there’s still no way to manually create a new Live Bookmark. If you go to the Bookmark organizer and try “New Bookmark” there’s no way to make a Live Bookmark — just a boring old static bookmark.

Even though your history appears in the Bookmarks organizer, you can’t actually drag a entry from your site history into your bookmarks. Granted, this is more a “nice to have” than anything — but, in general, it’d be nice to see some serious revamps in bookmarks with the next iteration of Firefox.

One-click bookmarking is nice, but the interface for managing bookmarks is still clunky and could use some interface love. In general, it’s not that Firefox handles bookmarks less well than other browsers, it’s that no browser does bookmarks very well.

Modify Shortcuts

Why doesn’t Firefox have a way to easily modify its keyboard shortcuts? It seems like this is something that should be built-in to Firefox, or at least easily accessible via about:config. While they’re at it, Firefox should also have a way to easily assign shortcuts to bookmarks.

Stability Matters

I saved the major annoyance for the end: Stability. Firefox has one major Achilles Heel when compared to other browsers — it tends to be a fair bit on the crashy side. The Firefox folks have done great work when it comes to dealing with crashes — the Crash Reporter dialog is a nice feature to simplify sending Mozilla data about a crash, and the restore session feature is nifty as well.

But the core problem remains — Firefox crashes on a pretty regular basis. As in, at least once or twice a day for this reviewer, and in talking to other Firefox users I find that I’m not alone. On the other hand, I’ve spent days using Opera beta releases without any stability problems. Clearly, it’s not impossible to build a more stable browser.

Some of this, no doubt, can be traced to one of Firefox’s biggest strengths: its ecosystem of add-ons. The Moz folks can run tests until they’re blue in the face with vanilla Firefox — and maybe even with the most popular extensions and add-ons — but at some point, they don’t have the ability to test all combinations of all add-ons. A lot of stability problems can be directly traced back to problems with add-ons.

But it seems unlikely that all the problems can be blamed on add-ons. With any luck, the work to separate processes being done for future releases of Firefox will have some impact on the stability of Firefox and make the browser as stable as it is useful.

Don’t get me wrong: Firefox 3.5 is a great browser, and an improvement over 3.0. The project has a long history of improving with each release, but it’s also worth noting where it can be further improved.

Comments on "Four Firefox Annoyances to Fix for 4.0"

bugmenot

While I am firmly convinced that Firefox is currently the best web browser available, I must agree wholeheartedly with the four points mentioned in this article. Especially the last one, regarding stability. While I don\’t get a Firefox crash twice daily like the author, I do find that Firefox will unexpectedly just dump me suddenly and without warning to the desktop after about two days of being open.

On the other hand, I can leave Opera or Konqueror (KDE3.5 version) running for literally weeks at a time and still be able to browse the web with them on a daily basis without these random crashes. Even the KDE4.2 and higher versions of Konqueror will run for several days without a crash as long as I don\’t visit too many sites with Flash on them.

The only problem with all these other browsers is that not a single one of them is as extensible / customizable as Firefox. I\’ve been able to customize Firefox into pretty much the perfect web development environment thanks to the magic of Firefox addons and to be honest, I pretty much couldn\’t even LOOK at the web these days without the AdBlock Plus extension due to the fact that on entirely too many sites the advertisements literally overwhelm the content. I completely understand wanting to make a little money off one\’s website, but when there is two to three times more advertisements than there is content, what\’s the point?

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conor_svensson

Also really annoying when you restore a session when you\’re behind a proxy. You have to keep on re-entering your proxy password for every tab & window.

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mmerlone

I\’d also add performance. Even though they say it got faster, I see no much difference from 3.0. And Chrome, Opera and Safari are very much faster and lighter than Firefox.
And still I cannot go without it.

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ulysses

I can\’t agree on the stability issue — I use Firefox on Linux (Fedora) and Max OS X. It\’s up all of the time — our company runs on a web-based app — with a dozen or so tabs open and I can\’t remember the last time it crashed. On the other hand, prior to 3.5 performance was a problem, especially if any pages I visited had Flash content (and I chose to view it.)

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danne

I can\’t remember the last time when Firefox crashed for me, it\’s almost rock solid. But I\’m still using 3.0 on Ubuntu, maybe 3.5 is more crash prone.

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buschie

I have to agree with Ulyssess, although I use Firefox 3.0.11 with Windows XP Pro and I don\’t have always have a dozen tabs open I do usually have two windows open one for each monitor, one running streaming Netflix and the other just surfing the web, I can\’t remember the last time it crashed on me.

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nrarnot

I haven\’t seen a Firefox crash for many months! (And that\’s despite using tabkit plug-in and often ending up with approaching a hundred open pages). Personally, would call it very stable indeed.

I do use Adblock Plus almost all the time, and Flashblock so I only see Flash stuff that I want to. Perhaps it\’s the slimeware that one gets from advertisers (privacy invasion techniques, attempts at malware insertion, etc.) that causes the crashes? Flash, Shockwave, pdf etc. can crash Firefox, but maybe it\’s not Firefox\’s fault, but that of the plugin.

Plugin plug – get Tabkit, Adblock-plus and Flashblock. You won\’t look back. Wish they shipped as default!

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jsilve1

Really? Last coupla posters, I mean… Really no crashes?????

I literally have FF 3.0 crash up to five times per day. Hm, maybe it *is* my extensions, so I\’m gonna uninstall ones I don\’t really use. But still, and I\’m not joking, 5 times per day is not unusual. For me. But like they say, YMMV.

And anyway, if it\’s the extensions\’ fault, that really limits the awesomeness of FF, doesn\’t it? I mean, the extension ecosystem is what makes FF so appealing, really. A vanilla Opera 9 or 10 is WAY better than a vanilla FF 3. And anyone who says it isn\’t hasn\’t seriously used Opera for any length of time.

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mahasamoot

While I agree on stability, which is my biggest beef, the other points are no big deal for me. My other major problem with Firefox is KDE integration, I can\’t stand those horrid gnome file dialogs :-P Desktop integration should be an addon/extension that comes in Win/Gnome/KDE/OSX flavours.

Cheers,
~Thomas

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tjrob

This probably depends on what you use the browser for, but I cannot remember the last time Firefox crashed on me. I\’ve been using it exclusively for many years, on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X (OS independence is why it is my browser of choice, plus add-ons like Adblock and Flashblock which REALLY improve the web experience).

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scottsilva

I would like them to fix the blockage you get if you happen to hit a bad certificate. I understand stopping, but it should give you an option to go on if you want to. I sometimes run into this while testing web apps, and have to open the link in IE if I want to open it anyway.

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shantanuo

I do agree with the third point \”Modify Shortcuts\”.
I use View – Page Style – No Style and have been waiting for (toggle) Ctrl key for this. Open office is very flexible when it comes to customizing shortcut keys.

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davydm

Sheesh… Would you like some cheese with that whine? (:

1) Changing context menus — you already said it: they are CONTEXT menus. Of course they change according to CONTEXT. If you want a quicker way to go back, get fire-gestures.

2) Better bookmarks — the reason there are so many bookmark-related addons isn\’t because FF bookmarks are bad: it\’s because so many people want so many different features from bookmarks. Catering to them all would be madness. Personally, I think that FF bookmarks do exactly what they should. If you want inter-computer synching or other fancies, get an extension for it. That\’s what extensions are for.

3) Personalising hotkeys: if the hotkeys extension doesn\’t work any more, well, no great loss. In Thunderbird, there might be a need for a hotkey modifier, but honestly, why not just learn the standard FF ones, which are used in so many other apps? Like alt-w to close a tab — it\’s quite a common thing now hey. In fact, for apps which don\’t close a tab with alt-w, I tend to change *them*

4) Crashes? What crashes?! You must have some super-dodgy extensions there mate. I run FF for weeks without crashes. The only times FF is restarted on my machines is when (a) the windows host has to reboot (once a week or so), or (b) the silly flash wrapper to get 32bit flash to work under 64bit Linux makes flash elements disappear. No crashes and the restarts are certainly not the fault of the Mozilla team.

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mickza

I would like more details on the stability issues I keep reading about. Like previous commentators I run a linux only site with Fedora and Firefox 3.0.xx with no crashing whatsoever, is it 3.5 that is flaky?

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igneousquill

I\’ve used Firefox almost exclusively for years, and I can\’t remember the last time it crashed on me. Then again, I only have a few add-ons. Now that I\’ve written this I\’m sure I\’ve invoked Murphey\’s Law or some variant thereof and will now experience a crash.

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aarontgrogg

\”Firefox should also have a way to easily assign shortcuts to bookmarks\”

Been there since 3.0:
- Bookmarks
- Rt-Click a bookmark
- Properties
- type something into keyword
- OK
- go to Address bar and type that keyword.

Not a keyboard shortcut, but still a shortcut.

And BTW, this is the worst site I have ever tried to register with… Do you REALLY need all that info about me (cause about 1/3 thru, I just started checking the first thing in the drop-downs… And it\’s like a 7-step process!!

Not a pleasant experience…

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wweng_linux

Firefox should have a uptime addon, or have something like about:uptime, so we can really compare how stable our firefox behaves, not rely on hearsays like what is going on here right now.

And to answer some of the folks who asked about the stability of firefox, my experience is, it is as stable as notepad in windows! I use it almost 14 hours a day, and 3.5 has never, never crashed on me. I have quite a few web development addons installed and often have flash videos going, more than 10 tabs opened, (I am lazy to bookmark some of them, so I just leave them open) and it has not crashed.

I use fedora 11 on a thinkpad t61. The kernel even whiffed once, and not firefox, that is how stable it is (for me).

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bugmenot

I have to agree with aarontgrogg concerning keyboard shortcuts for bookmarks.

Although I like the speed dial feature of Opera, where you can assign up to 9 shortcuts (ctrl+1 to 9) for your favorite sites

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pbr

Annoyance #5: Crash Reporter is a \”black hole\”

One thing that\’d be awesome isn\’t a change so much to the code, as to the PROCESS that goes on after someone submits a crash report.

If I go to the effort to spend a few minutes describing what I was doing, and send in a Crash Report, why can\’t someone go to the effort to get BACK to me, to let me know what it was they\’ve learned, if/when they learn something based on what I\’ve sent in?

Example: Consider the case where some \”dodgy\” (why was it made available on FF\’s extension site if it\’s dodgy?) plugin is determined to be part of why the crash happened. It would take ONE minute for a developer to toss off an email to me telling me they\’ve learned that some particular plugin is part of the problem. I could then eliminate that plugin from the equation, and we could BOTH learn something from the resulting change to my setup. (i.e. do the crashes stop altogether, are they still a problem, etc.)

Bug triage, and responsible handling through resolution, seems to be the bane of open source; FF\’s not alone here.

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kolomari

I cannot remember the last time Firefox crashed for me. My biggest complaint is memory usage. I had to kill and restart it this morning because it was gobbling up 300MB of memory. This could entirely be due to addons though, since I run a ton of them.

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drducker

Context Menu:

Yup, that title sums it up: CONTEXT menu.
Never been a problem for me.

Bookmarks:
Live Bookmarks make no sense as far as I can tell except where a site has a feed. Going to the site in question can\’t be that onerous.

History items CAN be dragged into the bookmarks, at least within the bookmark organizer. Did you even try?

The organization of bookmarks: yeah not so great, but much better than things used to be.

Keyboard Shortcuts:
Uh, I use CTRL-T, CTRL-W, and cut|copy|paste. I just don\’t normally need more than that.

Stability:
Ehh, not the best, but considering My browsing style seem to regularly crash Opera, Chrome, Safari, and the occasional one offs, FF\’s only real complaint from me on this front is it\’s memory consumption.

My biggest pet peeve:
Every time a new version of FF appears I have to wait for one of the tab plugins to get up to speed so I can have tabs on the side again. Widescreen laptop = wasted space side-to-side, not top-to-bottom.

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rawler

If there\\\’s one thing I\\\’d want from Firefox it\\\’s performance.

However, people always throw the performance-wish around without really remembering that performance is not a trait by itself, but a group of traits, including latency, throughput and resource usage.

Firefox does well on both page-loads and average performance (unless you run flash on Linux, which is a whole different story) but when it comes to resource usage, it\\\’s absolutely horrible.

On my machine currently, Firefox eats 256MB of private RAM, while managing to share a measly 1.4MB with other processes. (What? No shared libs _AT_ALL_?) I do have a few addons installed, sure, but for that to be a valid excuse, Firefox should enable me to see exactly which addons eats those resources.

Also, the not-so-awesome-bar nowadays churns my FF to completely halt more often than not, while doing something evil to my hard-drive. I\\\’m not sure exactly what in my browsing-habits generates those obviously HUGE amounts of data for my keyboard-input to be bound to harddrive-performance, but I doubt it\\\’s reasonable cause. And yes, I have upgrade to kernel 2.6.30 to avoid those horrible sync()-issues.

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jaygo2

well 3.5 isn\’t any more stable but it\’s significantly faster on linux. My set of five home tabs — gmail, gcal, toodledo, toggl (flash) — loads at least 20% faster, maybe 30%. That\’s a big, fat welcome change. But this goes away when the browser bogs down at 100% cpu for hours.

Their system to flush the memory seems to work, though it also seems to thrash the hard drive and brown-out my browser windows while it does it (my HD being a tight bottle-neck).

As for the four points, perhaps just allowing us to edit the context menus would be a good fix. As mentioned, a gesture would be even faster than using a menu though I prefer the fastest solution … the physical back buttons on my trackball & keyboard.

Bookmarks def needs some loving. Try alphabetizing all 2000 of them … have to go into every folder. Or try finding where you filed a particular bookmark, perhaps as you\’re trying to clean out duplicates: they come up in a search but there\’s no way of finding out what folder they\’re in without opening your bookmarks.html and searching through there.

Crashy? And how. I\’m in the twice a day variety and have been since 1.5 on Windows. Removing all the extensions makes it progressively better but those are a big part of why I use FF and what I need/want in a browser. I\’ve given up noscript, flashgot, sxipper, tabmixplus and a few others that were all but critical. Right now, I\’m down to Evernote, Firebug, Read it later, and Weave (testing) and it\’s been up for 24 hours tho dragging tabs stopped working a while back.

A good solution (is there an FF brainstorm page?) would be to offer process tracking/management within FF. When it sits at 100% CPU usage for hours, I\’d like to know which tab/process is hosing it. Or which extension is pushing FF up to 800M of RAM (looks like the new memory manager is at least triaging the situation). Or which one caused it to crash. I looked for a console option to perhaps display some errors but found none. Looking forward to 4.0 :)

@rawler – as a workaround, you can disable the awesome bar from searching your history somewhere in about:config

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scottnz

How about printing!

I\’ve used FF on Ubuntu and Windows for years, and I wouldn\’t think of switching from it as my primary browser. However at times I have to open a page in Opera (on Ubuntu) or IE in order to print properly. It\’s true that some pages won\’t print properly from any of the browsers, but FF seems to be the least capable when it comes to printing. Opera seems to be able to print just about anything.

Has 3.5 made any improvements in this regard?

Scott

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graemeharrison

My Internet connection is via a remote satellite dish… and the one area where Firefox makes the HUGE assumption that you have bandwidth to burn is on a SAVE AS command. IE and FF both assume that, even if you just seconds ago downloaded a huge page, and it took minutes, that if you want to save what you see on the page in front of you (eg just HTML, not in PDF) then it OUGHT re-download the full page again as the first step in the file saving process. Why make that assumption… it slows the process down very considerably. If you do a SAVE AS, it ought save what you are looking at when you issue that command. Now, if what you are looking at is over 10 minutes old, it ought save what is currently displayed and then MAYBE ask if you want to refresh before saving? The reason you should save first is in case a reload does not succeed.
Graeme (prof at-symbol post.harvard.edu)

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microbins

From my own expereince and reading the replies, it seems like the Stability issue is linked to \’ones\’ Add Ons rather than \’vanilla\’ Firefox. I have no crashes (seriously – none) with Firefox 3 and Add Ons: Flashblock, nuke anything enhanced, Quick Proxy, TACO, Dowload helper.
I know Add Ons are an \’essential\’ part of Firefox, but if stability becomes a real pain then maybe try eliminating an Add On at a time and see if there is a culprit amongst them.
- just my thought.

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nakedcomputerman

Firefox has been a great Browser and in so many ways a true value over the intrusive laden IE product. Firefox 3.5 is very nice and i like the improved performance and many of the other improvements they have incorporated into the update. I run Firefox with 4-6 windows open and in each about 15 or more tabs all at the same time. I have done this with 3.0 and now with 3.5. The complaint i had with 3.0 and previous versions is the amount of CPU time it took even when i had nothing more than sites that were essentially static at the moment. This seems to have been improved with 3.5 and performance is much better. I run with no extra plugins outside of the needed support codecs to make the sites display properly. No toolbars, which you should not use anyway unless you like the advertisements geared to your browsing habits. The stability of Firefox has improved with each new version that has been released over the years and i am even more delighted with version 3.5. There are those times when i have found FF to crash or freeze, but then i have 30-60 sites accessible to me all at once. Personally FF is almost as stable as just about any other application i run. Microsoft\’s browser is no perfect tool by any stretch and is really a bad choice for internet access. I am for Firefox all the way and your suggestions are all nice thoughts, but not absolute requirements. I am pleased with Firefox 3.5. I use it on both Windows and Linux.

randy

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nakedcomputerman

Actually if there is one area that would be a significant improvement, it would be the Bookmarks. Currently they follow the traditional Hierarchical style file structure. They could definitely make an improvement with a flat file structure and use the gmail idea with labels which would allow you to use multiple labels for the same entry. The bookmarks could be greatly improved even though they do work well. Maybe 4.0 we will see a change.

randy

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