Software // Enterprise Applications
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12/30/2005
02:05 PM
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The Trouble With Firefox

Users report high memory usage and freezes in version 1.5 of the open-source browser, but not everyone is having trouble

A picture is emerging of Firefox 1.5 that's less than positive. Issues cited by the more than 600 people who responded to an online query about their experiences with the new version of the browser include loading difficulties, high memory and CPU use, and browser freezes and crashes.

New features in Firefox 1.5 include automatic browser-updating functionality and the ability to check for multiple extension updates simultaneously. The new browser automatically disables, but leaves installed, any extensions that don't explicitly support it. It also is able to drag and drop reorder tabs, provides a significant reworking of the Options user interface, and lets you one-click to delete private data (such as user names and passwords) if you think you're being attacked by a phishing scam.

Firefox 1.5 Users Speak Out  
Of the more than 600 messages we've received to date on the latest version of Firefox, about a quarter offer up something like these:  

>> Firefox 1.5 frequently freezes for a few minutes, most often
when opening a link from another program. It also spikes in CPU usage during these freezes. Several sites always cause Firefox to just hang. I've had to stop visiting a couple of these sites, it was so frequent. The rendering seems to have gotten a little worse in version 1.5. PDFs have never been that reliable in Firefox, but at least in 1.0.x they worked most of the time. I find they rarely work in the newest version. All of this is on a completely clean profile as well on a clean install, so it cannot be blamed on a faulty upgrade or extensions.
--Shane McAliece

>> I'm having problems with Web pages loading incompletely
and improperly. It's a crapshoot as to when I'll experience these problems. Sometimes the pages load fine, other times not. What's troubling is that sometimes
it looks like I'm losing my Internet connection when the pages won't load at all (and I get the Firefox equivalent of a 404 message). Then a minute later,
everything will be fine.
--Betty Nakamoto

>> I'm getting "Page not found" or
"Site not available" messages at least 15 to 20 times more frequently than ever before, which is especially vexing since I'm often simply going from page to
page on the exact same site at the time!
--Scott Thompson

>> It doesn't render many pages correctly, particularly on The Motley Fool, where I use it the most.
Some links don't show; text isn't formatted properly (runs off the screen). Once IE comes out with tabbed browsing, I may drop it.
--Paul Knudsen

>> Memory usage has shot way up! On my machine, Firefox 1.0.7 used to use about 100 Mbytes. Now Firefox 1.5 shows 250 Mbytes or more [based on Windows Task Manager's Processes tab].
--Richard Frisch

>> I have three major issues with this
release. 1) I'm among those who've seen Firefox grow to over 350,000k in memory. 2) I've seen it consume up to 40% of my CPU for extended amounts of time for seemingly no reason, even while idling. My PC is a 2-month-old Dell 600xps/dual
processor, so this program is eating up serious CPU cycles. 3) This morning Firefox kept crashing and wouldn't stay up for more than 15 minutes at a time.
--Kevin Mahanay

>> I've encountered the 100% CPU freeze-up problem. And it comes
close to making the operating system useless. Some Web pages fail every time I try to load them.
-- Rob DuWors

 
     
And not everyone's experience has been troubled. More than 60% of the readers of InformationWeek .com and its sister publications who responded report they had no problems with the browser software. There's no statistically valid way to draw hard conclusions about how many people are having stability issues based on this small sample. A rough guess: The number of people having serious problems is probably well under 10% of all those who've installed Firefox 1.5.

Unhappy Users

Despite their small numbers, the people having problems aren't happy, and many are reporting the same woes:

• Firefox's use of physical and virtual memory is exceptionally high.

• CPU usage spikes to 100%, usually while loading a Web page.

• The browser freezes up for seconds, minutes, or permanently.

• It won't launch until errant "firefox.exe" processes are removed from Task Manager.

• The new version crashes, usually while loading a Web page.

• It has trouble loading specific pages, but there's no commonality as to which pages won't load.

• The initial launch of the browser loads slower.

• Third-party application hyperlinks, such as a link in an E-mail, take a long time to open a new Firefox tab or launch the browser.

One of the fallacies about software bugs is that, for a problem to be real, everyone has to have it. That's just not true. It's far more common for a widely distributed application like Firefox to have a long list of problems that only a small percentage of users experience. If multiple people in a selection of 600 have the same problem, it's most likely a real issue.

The page-compatibility issues are particularly inconsistent. Of the many Web pages that readers reported having problems displaying in Firefox 1.5, we haven't been able to reproduce a single one. They all work for us. At the same time, we've had trouble with other pages that won't load properly or at all. The problem may have nothing at all to do with Web-page rendering and more to do with some intermittent overall aspect of program reliability, such as caching issues.

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