Help making Firefox better – share your thoughts!

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being invited by Mozilla to Prague to, amongst other things, discuss the future of Firefox.

Background

As we all know, Mozilla, with Firefox, took back the web from a Microsoft-dominated era with Internet Explorer, made it open again and put emphasis on web standards. The way I see it, we owe gratitude for the openness and much healthier web browser landscape we see today, and it’s a very important step towards an open web.

Following that, Apple started developing Safari, based on WebKit, and last year, Google got into the game with Google Chrome (also based on WebKit). Somewhere at the sidelines, marketshare-wise, Opera has been around for quite some time, and has lately put a lot of effort into having people evangelize about HTML5 and future technologies.

With all this innovation, faster release cycles, new features and better overall support is brought to us, and I believe competition thrives from this. For many years, Firefox was known for setting the bar, both with web standards support and new exciting features, but as of lately, other web browsers have started seriously competing for this position, in terms of feature-support and performance.

Meeting in Prague

In Prague, I got the opportunity to discuss with Firefox Director, Mike Beltzner, and Firefox developer Vladimir Vukicevic about the future of Firefox, what to focus on and what web developers find most important. I also featured in a panel about HTML5 moderated by Vladimir where we discussed the balance of fixing old issues compared to implementing new things.

Before the panel, Vladimir had also expressed what they are looking for:

We are interested to hear what you think we could be doing better at, in terms of support for current or emerging web standards. Are there existing features in other browsers that you want to take advantage of that we don’t support? What about those features is compelling?

What’s missing from the web platform? Where do you want to see us take it? If you could pick one capability to add to the web, what would have the biggest impact on your web app development?

Of the currently supported standards, what’s painful? What would you like to see us focus on improving, whether through enhancement or through change?

What I think

The way I see it, Firefox took, and held, the lead for some time, but it is facing a huge challenge right now. The parts I find most important are:

Start-up time
In my daily work, with colleagues as well as people I met in the various companies I visit or do work for, a lot of them have chosen Google Chrome as their number one web browser. Anyone I ask about why, the answer always comes out the same: “Startup time – Firefox is so slow”. I know lots of work is being done by Mozilla in this area, but, if possible, I believe it has to be given even more priority. One suggestion is to postpone checking for add-on updates till after the web browser has actually started. Complement performance focus with looking at perceived performance vs. actual performance.
Performance, performance, performance
I think this can not be stressed enough. Without a doubt, the reason behind a fast adoption of other web browsers, especially Google Chrome, is spelled speed. Page rendering and JavaScript performance have to increase even more. In all fairness, it has to be said, Firefox 3.5 without any add-ons is very fast and almost up to par with the others, but at the same time add-ons is the main competitive advantage and in many cases, the sole reason for people choosing Firefox. Therefore, add-ons implementation has to get faster as well, and I believe Jetpack is an attempt to achieve that – problem is, native Jetpack in Firefox and people porting their add-ons to it is far away in the future, and other measures need to be taken before that.
Separating processes
This goes a little hand-in-hand with the performance points made above, but with separate processes for each tab, and especially one for the Firefox UI, it gives a great playing field for accomplishing that. I know this is in the long plan for Firefox as well, but I just want to emphasize how crucial it really is.
Release cycles
I think it comes down to how often a new version is released, but also, more importantly, how many features that are being tried to be packed into each release. The important choice to make is incremental additions and enhancements, and not believing each version will contain everything that is desired.
Acid3
Why I think the Acid3 tests matter is not necessarily what support that comes with a 100/00 score, it’s about the message it sends out to developers. If Mozilla can’t deliver a score of a 100, while WebKit and Opera can, it conveys the feeling that Mozilla have a harder time and is a little bit behind implementing things.
Implementing new features
What was good with the Firefox 3.5 release was support for video and audio elements, Location Aware Browsing, general HTML5-related support in the form of CSS enhancements, query selectors etc. Keep this up, but most of the above are just following WebKit examples – I would like you to be first with the most mind-blowing features! (I think the AwesomeBar is one example of such a great feature)

I want Firefox to be the best web browser out there again, all categories, and I believe these are the vital steps to achieve that. Make me proud! :-)

What do you think?

Those are my thoughts. Is Firefox your main web browser, or do you just “use it for developing”, as I mostly hear? What would it take to make it your number one web browser again?

Help Mozilla out by contributing your thoughts!

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