The Remarkable Complexity of Modern Web Browsers

This entry is just a lead-in to the next entry that’ll beabout an exciting technology in Firefox 3.5. I didn’t want to bloatup that entry with my parentheticals and rants, so just wanted toget that out of the way here.

Firefox 3.5 – You Should be Trying It

Have you tried out Firefox3.5 yet It’ll happily install side-by-side, so there’s verylittle risk giving it a spin.

While currently a Release Candidate, it is already supported bymost popular add-ins, such as Firebug and Adblock Plus, and bringsa bounty of new functionality, more comprehensive emergingstandards support, all while improving performance.

Performance has never been Firefox’s strong suit. While someincorrectly believe that Firefox has just recently been overtakenby upstarts like Webkit and its bastard child Chrome – the lorebeing that Firefox’s creaky “old” legacy code is not as nimble asthe newer projects – the truth is that Firefox has always been aperformance laggard compared to all but Internet Explorer.

It has always used more memory, done things more slowly, withbenchmarking and resource consumption metrics that seldom earned itpraise. The history of Firefox (aka Mozilla Suite, Phoenix andFirebird) is a tortured legacy littered with complaints about slowstart-up times, a slow page layout engine, massive memoryconsumption, and middling JavaScript performance.

These are the costs of building on the XUL abstraction, along withsome expensive add-on scaffolding. The ability for an add-on todramatically change the behaviour of the browser (all from within aworld of JavaScript and chrome) isn’t just an accidentalhappenchance, but instead is the result of considered, pervasivedesign choices.

The EU Fines Opera for Their Monopolistic BrowserStranglehold

If a small footprint and snappy response were the keys tosuccess, Opera would have taken the market by storm given that it’sbeen evangelizing and focusing on that pursuit, to a great degreeof technical success and leadership, for well over a decade now.Yet most users care more about a slightly better bookmark managerthan they do about even magnitude differences in JavaScriptperformance.

But performance does matter. As web applications grow richer andmore elaborate, the weakest of the contenders will get pushed outof the race. Already web applications like Slashdot and Facebookare getting unpleasant with a few of the current contenders, yetsome of the new features of standards like HTML 5 promise dramaticnew functionality that will completely blow the top off of thedomain restrictions of the browser world.

So with recent releases the Firefox crew has reduced the tollyou have to pay for these architectural choices, and through a lotof hard work it’s getting to be a memory lightweight, as far as webbrowsers go, and performance has improved across the board,sometimes dramatically.

Your Browser Is a Remarkably Complex Software Product

And to sidetrack for a moment about a personal peeve, let mekick down the frequent whiners’ complaint that it’s “just a webbrowser”. Every time someone make such an ignorant, misinformedstatement — usually during some entitled complaint about resourceconsumption on their obsolete PC — I think a universe blinks outof existence in some alternate reality.

There is very likely nothing that you do on your PC that is asrich and complex as the things that you’re doing right now justbrowsing the web. It’s isn’t “just a web browser”, it should be “Ican’t believe how much is happening for me to loll around on theweb for a bit!”.