Ming the Mechanic:
Browsers

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Browsers2007-02-24 14:18
24 comments
by Flemming Funch

I've used FireFox for a long time, and generally I've been happy with that. Lots of useful plugins, for one thing. But after version 2.0 somehow worked worse than the previous version, I started considering seeing if there are alternatives. Which there are, of course. Like Opera.

There's a few annoying problems I've always had with FireFox. One is that the file downloading is horrible. You click on a download link, and I'm stuck with a spinning beachball for a number of seconds, no matter how small the file might be. Once the download is running, Firefox can do other things, but it seems to be a really big deal to start it. In the same time it takes, I could open a terminal window and do it with some command-line utility, like wget. I don't understand why nobody's ever fixed that. Downloading a small file should not be a big deal. There are an assortment of download manager plugins, connecting to external programs that are good at downloading, but that's kind of overkill if I just want one little file.

The other really annoying thing is that after I've used the program for a while, and I have a number of windows open, things slow down. With tabs, I can quite easily have 20 or 30 sites open. And it can quite easily happen that one or several of those do something that uses up resources. It might have some Ajax running, or Java, or Flash, all of which might be doing something dumb. It might be in the middle of queueing up a dozen embedded videos for viewing. The point is that when things slow down, it is not always obvious why. If I close all the possibly offending pages, things get a bit better, but the browser remains kind of slow. And the system would often show that it is using, like, 98% of system cycles, and hundreds of megs of memory.

What I really would like would be that the browser could give me an idea of what resources each page is using. It shouldn't be hard for the browser software to show me where the problems are. And then it should of course recover the used resources when that page is closed.

There are other things, but they're minor. Firefox now has a nice feature for restoring the pages you had opened in your last session. Except for that the windows are in a seemingly random order. I normally have around 5 windows open, with a number of tabs in each. The tabs are in the proper order, but the windows never get loaded in the order I had them in in the Window menu.

I tried Opera for a week, and I actually really like it. It is faster, and it downloads files fine, and it restores the last session with everything in the proper order. And it includes a bunch of standard features that I have in plugins in FireFox. Very nicely put together. But after using it normally for a day or two, having a bunch of windows and tabs open, the same thing happens as in FireFox. Things get slow, and I don't know which page is doing it. And there are a few key plugins I use a lot in Firefox, which don't have anything comparable in Opera. Like the Firebug Javascript debugger, and a plugin that shows me the dimensions or paths or pictures in a page.

So, I went back to Firefox. But if anybody knows a browser or a plugin that shows you which pages slow everything down, I'm all ears.


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24 comments

24 Feb 2007 @ 17:34 by Tim @80.1.224.12 : FF
I'm a big fan of Firefox, but it's true it is a BIG RAM-hog. When I switched to Linux I thought things would improve FF-wise, but it's are only marginally faster to load (compared to Windows).

I use very few Add-ons now in FF - the most useful being the del.icio.us bookmark tag add-on. Think I'll take Opera for a spin right now.....  



24 Feb 2007 @ 19:25 by dewf @72.178.11.61 : bulky browsers, etc
i don't know if it's the browsers or the content on the web these days. after getting a new core 2 duo system, i've found that browsing is AWFUL for me. while it might be a hardware issue, i primarily notice CPU spikes when browsing -- either IE7 or firefox2. it seems to have a lot to do with the flash plugin, but the internal bloatedness of the browsers themselves doesn't help much, either.

agreed -- it would be fantastic if software, FIRST AND FOREMOST, worried about its responsiveness and feedback to the user. give the user control over programs that are misbehaving, let us see what's taking so darned long, why ram is being consumed, etc. then let us kill the offending software/content with ease.

curiously, i found that running microsoft's IE6-in-a-virtual-machine (google for it-- free to download) seems to be a lot more efficient -- primarily because i can actually control the cpu usage and ram usage of the virtual machine, whereas with the app running natively, it can bring my system to a crawl if it so chooses!  



24 Feb 2007 @ 22:31 by ming : Computers
I have a recent Mac (Intel core duo chip) with 2G of RAM. Compared with computers I've been happy with in the past, this ought to be absolutely lightning fast in comparison. But it is roughly the same. Oh, if I run any kind of test, this is obviously a very fast computer. But the experience of responsiveness is roughly the same as it has been on any other computer. Of course in part because it lets me do more things, but I'd like it to help me manage them, and I'd like it to manage the resources for whatever it is.

Firefox is using over 500MB real memory right now, despite that I restarted it just a couple of hours ago, and I have 'only' a dozen tags open.

If I have dozen or two things open in a browser, it isn't really because I need them to all be doing something. It wouldn't bother me at all if gmail only refreshed when I clicked on the tab it is in, or if a video only was downloading when that tab is active. I have them open in order to remember them and be able to get to them quickly.

Of course Firefox isn't any worse than so much other software. It is better, actually. It is just one that I'd really like to be super-snappy. If I open any Microsoft or Adobe program, it will also use up enormous amounts of resources and will generally seem rather sluggish.  



7 Mar 2007 @ 00:37 by dar dobs @74.118.189.147 : FIX_Firefox_Memory_Leak_Workaround
G'day Professor,
-the following may work for You [our pcs are using Opera, as F_fox became tempermental]
cheers,
dar d

I saw a great tip today: by adding a simple preference
in your Firefox configuration, you can tell Firefox to
reduce its memory usage to 10 megabytes every time you
minimize the application! This has worked very well
for me - here's how you do it:
In the Firefox address bar, type about:config and
press Enter.
Right-click in the page and select New -> Boolean.
A pop-up box will appear.

Type config.trim_on_minimize and click OK.
Select True and click OK.

It will take effect the next time you startup Firefox.
You can check it out by opening your task manager
(right-click on the Windows taskbar and choose Task
Manager) and watching Firefox's memory usage as you
minimize and maximize the application.

http://www.help2go.com/Tutorials/Web_Browsers/Firefox_Memory_Leak_Workaround.html  



14 Mar 2007 @ 12:02 by Adam @195.137.48.103 : Not me.
i've found firefox to work well on my 600Mhz machine (linux). Flash use or a very heavy javascript page does make it less responsive but not a major problem. Network problems however can be a killer....

If you want speed go for dillo  



15 Mar 2007 @ 03:31 by ming : Optimization
I'm on OSX, so the trim_on_minimize thing doesn't work. I looked around the web for more on optimizing Firefox today. Didn't find much, but adjusted a few minor things in about:config, and uninstalled some extensions I wasn't using. And put some little 'zap' javascript applets in my toolbar, to selectively stop running scripts and plugins on a page.  


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