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.

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