Updated: July 5, 2011
I was fairly excited when Firefox 4 was released three months ago. When I say excited, it means I considered it to be a useful, logical continuation of a successful browser series, which I have been using since release minus 0.2 or so. But when Firefox 5 debuted just a few short days ago, my only response was meh, who cares. Indeed, it you really wanted to describe underwhelming to someone without referring to Merriam-Webster, Firefox 5 ought to do it.
Firefox 5 is, on paper, a very good browser. Because Firefox 4 is a very good browser and the two are identical. And there's no justification to the numbering system, apart from what I'm going to rant against in this article.
There's nothing funnier than a company losing its compass, save perhaps Benny Hill sketches, all of Monty Python, Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty, Yes Minister, and a few other legendary British TV shows. For instance, Google is now struggling, after its new CEO decided to teabag the press, the stock is down and the new interface is as usable as a pepper shaker in outer space. And we shall yet talk about it some more.
On topic, Mozilla is suffering from a deep, deep identity crisis, which can be described thusly: Ignore seven years of great success, the existing 30% worldwide user base was won without any regard to a versioning scheme, let's tackle the market the way Google does it, by making our browser a toy, throw out features, introduce bugs, and hasten the releases so it appears as we're doing something wicked and awesome. That sums it up.
Rapid Release sounds like a US Special Forces hostage release protocol, but it's just a stupid name to Firefox getting its numbers incremented for no good reason. Because everyone knows that if you go from version 4 to 5 in three months, it means you've done some real work. Totally cool.
There would be no problem with Firefox 5 if the version justified its digits. But it does not. There is not a single thing in Firefox 5 that is worth the change. Not a single thing. It's Firefox 4.0.2 at most, 4.1 if you want to be generous. But Firefox 4 is being retired and the new browser is all the rage now. And there's rumor of Firefox 3.6 being readier for slaughter, so that some project manager can justify the bad decisions. People don't want to switch, get a hint. If Firefox 4 and 5 and whatever were superb, there would be no Firefox 3.6 users, now would there?
The sad thing about it - this was done because Google did the same thing. Google have their tabs on top, Firefox has them. Then, Google decided to obfuscate the address bar by removing the HTTP protocol prefix, now Mozilla will do the same. And never mind the fact having no status bar, which is another Google thing, does not let you see where the actual URL links lead to. Google pumps out its Chrome releases like rabbits, so Mozilla has to do the same.
Yes, everyone is so excited about the "cloud" features, as if the buzz word means anything, but the simple fact is, when I highlight a URL, without the status bar, I don't know where I'm going to be taken, be it an organic link or something less savory.
An example, just for you - my own site. I've placed the mouse cursor over the Red Flag Linux title, and it has turned from black to blue on hover. In Firefox 3.6 or any other version with the status bar, you can see what the underlying link really is, in the bottom left corner of your browser.
However, with Firefox 4.X and onwards, sans the status bar, you don't get any useful information. So you get security touted like a holy weapon on one hand and moronofication that makes things more complicated on the other. Look below, bottom left corner, no link info.
And this is how it's supposed to be:
The way I see it, there are two big problems with this approach. Not the URL specifically, all of the changes that have recently been happening.
Small edit, July 8: Turns out that using Status 4 Evar does invalidate the built-in URL display in the bottom left corner of the Firefox window, so here's a conflict right there with extensions meant to fix broken functionality. More about that later, but ignore this whole rant about URLs. See more below.
Firefox success so far
One, Firefox users are running Firefox because they like it. They chose their browser over the competition, because it offered something the competitors could not. There's a reason why Firefox is so popular and Opera is not. Firefox became popular without any regard to how quickly its versions were produced. Therefore, the change to Rapid Release makes no sense, or at the very least, will not help things on any grand scale, while it surely will piss off loyal users who are in no mood to become browser admins every four days.
The one big advantage Firefox has
And now, the punchline. Firefox has gained so much popularity for one reason. Not because it was prettier, not because it was faster, not because it was more secure, not because it could run on other operating systems. It gained, because of its extensibility.
Firefox was the first browser to be truly extensible. Grab some add-ons and make it whatever you feel like. Different skins, more security, ad blocking, multimedia helper tools, weather reports, personas, you name it. All of that, plus thousands more, just waiting for you at AMO.
But then Firefox 4 came out and broke things. I still have not migrated my production systems to Firefox 4, because 1) there's no compelling reason, I have all the performance and stability 2) four or five of my add-ons are still not compatible.
You can say this is the developers' fault, for not keeping up with Firefox. Which is partly true. But then, Mozilla needs to adjust its addons policy and simply delete projects of any developer who cannot commit to their release cycle. This way, we will avoid the situation where you use add-ons that will be updated more slowly than the browser itself.
However, today, you have hundreds of extensions that do not work, and you need to pile more and more compatibility-fixing addons just to get your browser sorted. One of my test machines with Firefox 4.X and onwards now runs four new extensions, which have the sole purpose of taming the new Firefox to my needs.
I'm forced to use Status 4 Evar, MR Tech Toolkit, which itself is not compatible, Slim Add-on Manager, and the Compatibility Reporter addon, which allows you to run unsupported addons and send feedback on their stability. So not only are you inconvenienced, you are also sort of forced to spend valuable time tweaking, fixing, looking for answers to stupid and unnecessary problems only to compromise, and worse, run in a virtually unsupported mode. Yes, you have to make your browser potentially unstable because you force things that are inherently incompatible.
Now, here's a nice article that explains some of the stuff in a manner that is way more politically correct than mine. Several major points are raised, namely, trying to appear to be more secure, the effect of looking busy, saluting the business customers with the middle finger, and crippling the browser some more.
So the article says: A browser that is updated more frequently tends to have the perception of a more modern, up-to-date, more secure browser with an overall fresher appearance. Indeed, emphasis on tends to have the perception. That's the biggest load of bollocks.
And all the sudden, violent changes - ok for home users, not ok for business. Well, it's not ok for home users either. Unless home users enjoy their daily dose of abuse by code monkeys, then sure, let's all be beta testers for Mozilla, Google, Apple, and others, so they can justify their bonuses at the end of the year. Synergy and web apps combined into a Colossal Cluster Coitus (CCC).
Don't be sheep
You should not let anyone make you into their for-free slave. You are a user and as such entitled to good customer service. Killing browser versions without any prior notice and breaking functionality is not considered good service anywhere. So feel free to express your anger and send a big proverbial FU to your loving software vendors, who so much care for you that they eliminated the status bar and will now eliminate HTTP, too. Because, it's all one big connected network, right, who cares if you connect to HTTP or FTP or JAR, who has time for details, LOL, when you can be productive and casual at the same time.
One last thing about business, before I go back to my cave. Mozilla seem to have forgotten it's the businesses who make standards and who will ultimately decide what goes around. Y'know, those people with money, who make all the big decisions? So how does retiring Firefox 3.6 align with long-term support Linux releases, including enterprise editions like RHEL, SLES, plus some like CentOS, Ubuntu and others? It sure does not.
Firefox 5 is a gimmick. An empty gesture of desperation that has nothing to offer. It's Firefox 4, unchanged save for some version strings, plus more incompatibility problems. And it's slowly becoming what Firefox users do not want - Chrome. If Firefox users wanted to run Chrome, they would run Chrome. If Firefox users wanted their product to be like Chrome, they would use Chrome. Making Firefox like Chrome will not make Firefox users stay, it will actually make them go away. Simple logic, IQ 90 is all it takes to figure it out. Perhaps Mozilla should launch a new browser called Mozilla Titanium, it would be based on WebKit and use a round tri-color flat logo. That ought to teach everyone a lesson!
I guess I'm done for this session. Using Firefox 3.6 and not liking the new trends. Perhaps I should wait for Mozilla to send me a nice, scented letter where it says you're our new bitch so that I know I'm being used for experiments. The worst thing is, there's no real alternative, and I really wonder how much stupidity can one take before giving up. I'm currently four extensions over my normal dosage, so what will happen when they force me onto Firefox 92. At least I can complain without end. We will see how this unravels.