Firefox’s Stability Problem

UPDATE: At the very least part, but probably most of the blame for firefox’s stability issues lies with one of my favorite extensions. Time to eat some major humble pie. (It is unexpectedly delicious).  Further Update:  It appears Firebug is not being actively maintained (no release since last April).  Further, the rampant stability problems have only recently cropped up.  This suggests some change in the core of Firefox that Firebug was never updated to handle.

Firefox has been churning out releases lately. They haven’t been the most stable. On my work laptop (windows xp) crashes are a little more frequent. On my home pc (ubuntu linux), crashes are extremely frequent. Stability/Memory issues have been a long running problem with Firefox. At this point Firefox has a serious brand problem. When users think of Firefox, they most likely think “Cool Extensions, Unstable, Bloated”. I don’t think the development community is taking this problem seriously enough, however. Take this entry from the support forums. In a post titled “Slew of instability problems”, a user complains about frequent crashes. The response at the end caught my eye:

[ruggedtoast (New Member)] Oh yeah – should have posted in the general discussion area. Never mind, I hope it gets sorted out anyway.

[Daifne (Moderator)] Nothing to sort out. It’s a problem on your system, in your profile, not in the coding of the program. Only you can fix it.

Thats a terrible attitude. If you read the short thread, there is nothing in there that can absolutely diagnose ruggedtoast’s problems. Chalking it up to a localized problem such as a corrupt profile is a bit premature. Further, if it is a profile issue, then how did that arise? Most users don’t hack at their profiles directly. Firefox does. So if the profile was damaged in some way, that is possibly an issue with the coding of the program.

Stability is the most important thing a developer can focus on. A program that crashes is one that fails to function. There isn’t a single exciting new feature or useful addon that can be used once a program has crashed. Stability and its close relative performance should be the number one focus of Firefox development work. Without a stable application every other effort is damaged or wasted.

One of the more frequent responses from the Firefox community is that extensions are what make Firefox unstable. If that is the case, then we need a system to identify unstable extensions. If a well known extension like firebug or noscript has a long running stability issue, it should be flagged, prominently, in the extensions ui and on the extensions page until the issue is fixed.

And one cannot ignore that the core code of Firefox is likely to blame in at least some situations. Denying a problem only gets in the way of ever fixing the problem.

So why bring this up on a political blog? Because the stability problems of Firefox provide the political world with a really important lesson.

I like Firefox. Its an outstanding piece of software. In fact I’m typing this post in Firefox right now. But ignoring or downplaying criticism of the browser helps no one. Meaningful critique and response are the only way to make the browser a stable application, and repair the damage to the Firefox brand. We should take the same approach to politics. Our candidates of choice are not perfect. Sometimes the critiques of opponents have merit that should be explored. My candidate of choice is a great example of this. Edwards made a costly mistake supporting the Iraq war. He listened to criticism, re-evaluated his stance, and the changes he made have had a very positive impact.

Everyone makes mistakes. If we respond to them correctly, they truly can make us stronger. Mistakes are advise to the wise. To become wise in this way, all we need to do is listen.


3 Responses

  1. Yeah I was wondering what was going on. I had problems with Firefox for over a week now. Its a shame, I like Firefox, haven’t used IE in over a year.

  2. I haven’t used IE in a while either (at least over a year). I use firefox for two reasons, one is it’s not Microshaft and the other is the sense of security the community portrays it to have. I have had little to no problems of malware or popups. I am new to Ubuntu (ver. gutsy gibbon) but I haven’t noticed any issue with regards to firefox’s operating smoothly. It may be about utilization. I use fire ftp in my windows environment but am thinking of changing to a stand alone as fire ftp appears to have functionality issues for me. I can’t stand the idea of using IE so unless firefox becomes completely unusable, I’ll keep updating and hoping…..

  3. I knew it. I was wondering what was going on. I have tons of memory leaks, comp us is always on over drive because I am a power user. I never remember having this problem before, but damn.

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