For years I’ve been a big fan of Firefox, but things seem to have gone a little askew lately. It was only a couple of months ago that I blogged about version 4, so I was extremely surprised when a ZDNet tech update arrived in my mail box today and announced Firefox 5. I momentarily thought it was a prank.

At the moment, having given my ThinkPad back to IBM (and being without Windows until next week), I’m a 100% Mac user. But I’m not using Firefox. Shortly after installing Firefox 4 on the iMac I started to receive complaints from another member of the iMac’s user base (known to you, dear readers, as the current Mrs Adams). And actually I was suffering the same problem. For all of it’s life the iMac has performed well, but now, for some strange reason, it was entering into long periods of ‘thinking about what it was doing’. Or in layman’s terms, not responding for minutes on end. This started around the same time Firefox 4 was installed, and the problems occurred when Firefox 4 was running (Mrs A tends to leave it loaded in her logged-on account, as do I). The problems stopped around the same time that Firefox 4 was downgraded to 3.6.something. No need for the jury to retire, m’lud.

However, that wasn’t the end of the Firefox issues. Shortly after downgrading Firefox, it upgraded itself (just a bit) to 3.6.17… and then the spinning beach-ball (a sight well-known to, but not welcomed by, Mac users) started to appear with annoying frequency. The browser would often be in a death spiral of unresponsiveness for up to two minutes – but at least this version had the good grace not to tie up the entire OS. I stripped out the plug-ins but to no avail.

At this point I decided to give Google’s Chrome a go. I did say back in 2008 that there was nothing to make me switch, but back then it was in beta. Now it’s up to version 12 (what, already?). Since installing Chrome I’ve never looked back. It’s fast, it never shows the beach-ball, and I’ve realised I can live without the Firefox plug-ins (apart from one that mimics Firefox’s live bookmark feature).

Anyway, back to Firefox. Version 5? It took thirty-three months for Mozilla to take Firefox from version 3 to 4. There were fourteen months between versions 3.6 and 4. But the gap between version 4 and 5 was just three months (a day less actually). So I’m not going to bother with version 5, I’ll just wait for version 6 in September. Think I’m joking? Wikipedia states that Mozilla hope to ship versions 6 and 7 in 2011. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols writes:

The Mozilla Foundation, following in the footsteps of Google’s Chrome web browser, seems to believe that if they keep popping out new “major” releases every six weeks, they’ll convince people they’re better than the competition.

Well, that would seem to be the way that Chrome got to version 12 in less than three years, so maybe he’s right. Mr Vaughan-Nichols states that this is a mere point release (a minor one at that), rather than a major release.

Personally, I’ll be selecting my browser based on speed and reliability rather than who has the highest version number.

Written by Darren

Darren Adams works for Microsoft as a Global Account Technology Strategist. In a former life he worked for the Lotus brand within IBM for many years. Married with one daughter and two dogs, and lives in Camberley (Surrey, England). That's it really.

This article has 11 comments

  1. Roy Rumaner Reply

    I installed FF5 and within 2 hours uninstalled it. The one plugin (WiseStamp) that I use regularly did not even load in FF5 (it worked fine in FF4). Other than that I saw absolutely no difference in speed, loading, response or anything else that would make me want to upgrade or switch to it. I will stick to Chrome, thank you.

  2. Stuart McIntyre Reply

    The difference is… Chrome updates itself, so users barely know that the update has been applied. On FF the poor user gets nagged (or has done until now) almost every time they start the program that they need to download a new release, and can’t use the app until this is complete.

    Also, my experience mirrors yours – with FF, the more tabs you have open (particularly those containing any flash), the slower the OS becomes. With Chrome, having 20 or 30 tabs open barely notices.

    Chrome really is the best out there right now.

  3. Jimes.Macrotina Reply

    I told my friends adobe is so annoying that every time you start your computer, it pops up the update box. Now, finally I find a software which is more bothersome than adobe, that’s firefox!I had updated to 4.0 manually but what I get is a buggy worm. so I have to back to 3.5 which I think is the most stable version in the world. it’s DEFINITALLY GREAT that I find it updates to firefox 4 automatically the next day. Wow, what a efficient browser! You lost one more users and I know you don’t care.
    Never use firefox again, I think I should thank you all the same , because you make me find Avant browser finally.

  4. Simon O'Doherty Reply

    Rumour has it that every time Mozilla ship a major point release, that Microsoft sends them a cake. This time they only got a cupcake.

  5. Harald Gaerttner Reply

    Yes, I was a big fan of Firefox too. But then I switched to Ubuntu Linux and my main computer became a Netbook.

    Unfotunately even Firefox 3 already showed how badly it uses available ressources. While I even was able to install and use a full Lotus Notes installation (not fast but running without problems) Firefox became unresponsive frequently.

    That was the time to test Google Chrome and I too never looked back since. Worked with Firefox on the Windows machine at work for a while but finally changed there too. It just was more comfortable to use the same browser everywere. And there’s not too much I miss compared to FF.

    Not sure if I even care to test FF5

  6. Darren Reply

    Simon, I heard that story too (so it must be true) – apparently it’s the Internet Explorer development team who send the cake. Who said developers don’t have a sense of humour?

  7. Mike Reply

    Dont know who these Einsteins are, advising companies regarding ‘version numbers’, but version numbers mean nothing. STABILITY and a good product are all you need in order to convince users to switch or remain a consistent user. I’ll take a stable, solid version 3.x over a crappy version 8 ANY DAY.

  8. Anonymous Reply

    An excellent statement: “Personally, I’ll be selecting my browser based on speed and reliability rather than who has the highest version number.” Jul 2011: if you look at the mozilla firefox main download page, version 5.0 is listed and on the page it says quote “a new look” “super speed” “more awesomeness” (i.e. more UI-annoyance). The word “reliability” is not on the page anywhere. It’s all about marketing and “fanciness” instead of reliability. The largest software companies such as microsoft and google also change things routinely for no reason and set a bad example. I tried to send feedback on this frivolous versioning epidemic via http://input.mozilla.com/en-US/download and all you get is a message saying “you have to be on the latest version.” Utterly arrogant.

  9. Laraso Reply

    I’ve been using Firefox for years now, but the UI change in 4 almost made me switch to a different browser until I figured out a way to switch it back. Now, right as soon as I’ve gotten used to 4, they throw 5 at me, and now news is out that they plan on releasing 6 and 7 in the same year. I’m not going to put up with this, I’m switching back to Opera. Their browser is better anyway.

    @Anonymous:

    The requirement to be on the latest version of Firefox to send feedback is not arrogant, but a smart decision made by the Mozilla team. They don’t want anyone sending them feedback about their browser if they haven’t even tried it, so they require you to be on the latest version of Firefox so they can be absolutely sure that you have tried the browser. This way they wont get people sending them feedback who never tried and never were going to try the browser in the first place.

  10. Darren Reply

    Dear Anonymous… your last two comments have been unapproved, if you’re not prepared to state your name and if you give various e-mails addresses I’m not going to allow your comments.

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