Firefox taking wrong lessons from Chrome

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Mozilla, it seems, have been following Chrome’s lead in some browser features. This is evidenced by the mock-ups for Firefox 3.7 and 4.0 where they consider moving tabs above the address bar as well certain additions to Firefox 3.5 (namely private browsing).

But what Firefox needs to be learning from Chrome is that browser startup speed is essential.

From my experience with Firefox and Chrome, Chrome loads extremely fast but Firefox tends to load somewhat slowly, even without comparing it to Chrome’s speed.

And why is this? By default, when you load Firefox it checks for updates for Firefox, your add-ons and search engines. The more add-ons you have, the slower Firefox will load. This is certainly not a good way to encourage people you use add-ons, or even use Firefox when Chrome is an alternative.

I do use a fair number of add-ons for Firefox and, while I appreciate that Firefox checks for updates, I do not believe that the load process is a good time to do so. I would rather have a faster load process and restart Firefox on the off chance there’s an update than sit around waiting for it to check for possible updates.

You can of course turn these updates off (Options > Advanced > Updates), but that means you have to manually check for updates.

Checking for updates wouldn’t be a problem if they ran in the background after Firefox has loaded. You could then be prompted to restart Firefox to complete the updates. This is how most other programs seem to handle updates – even Windows performs updates while it is loaded. The exceptions tend to be programs that need you to be running the same version as everyone else (e.g. MMORPGs). Perhaps this will happen once Firefox switches fully to multi-threading.

I would go as far as to speculate that when add-ons come to Chrome for the general public, Google will not let them dent it’s incredible startup speed by making the same mistake as Firefox.


Thanks to Octavian for reminding me about Google Updater. This is a background process that is added to your computer when you install any of Google’s products and is how they can load without an update check slowing them down. Google Updater runs all the time, continuously checking for updates for the Google software installed on your machine.

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    • Well, before getting too deep on it, I suggest you get your hands on Process Explorer, once a product of SysInternals, then bought by Microsoft. Using Process Explorer, if you got Chrome installed, you will see a process belonging to Google, “Google Updater”. That, my friend, is a service. Remains running all the time while you work, whether or not you start Chrome during a Windows work session.
      Try to kill it – it will spawned back again. It will still be there if you disable the update check from the browser settings and if you remove it from starting too at system startup.

      Soooo… amazingly… Chrome does not need to check for updates itself since the Updater does just that. All the time.

      Chrome’s speed might also be increased by that update, which could preload required libraries at system startup. Just a shot in the dark, but face it: since you already have one of your products un and running, why not make sure the others also get some benefit out of it?

      If they do implement that silly tab-as-window feature, I truly hope it will be toggle-able. I hate it.

      Multithreading you say… well… using the exact Process Explorer as above, start Chrome and open a few tabs, each with a different website. Check P.E. – you will see a tree of processes, all chrome.exe, the first being the one you started, the others being one for each new tab. This is how the “tabs” can dock and undock from the parent application. The same applies to Internet Explorer – one mother application, several tab-sons. I.E. does not allow (yet, unless a mad dev at MS will implement the silly feature there too) undocking tabs from the parent instance, but it does the same in the memory.

      The system is not new, MS uses it for all its Office products – one application server and several application clients, as many as the number of documents you have opened. Check Excel and Word – Word for sure, since early versions, I had my chance on running programmatic mail merge using Delphi for coding and Word for that feature, used for report and document generation.

      The first concern Mozilla has to tackle is the faulty memory management. It’s not that OK to get a browser at 1GB of occupied memory. That, on my 7 year old PC, with XP on it and 768MB DDR RAM. It’s a real pain always having the system use the HDD for extra memory, since the physical memory is swamped. And when I tried to close it, it would remain in memory for 30-45-60 minutes before closing. I could guess why (due to hmm 20-40 tabs opened? deviantArt is a pain at that, I’ll give you that 🙂 ), though…

      Don’t let the glimmering outfit, feature list or rumors catch your eyes, there is more to it than just nice images. The “software doing everything for you” means you get less control – at least, as Chrome feels to me now.

      And about Windows Automatic Updates. They are checked and downloaded even if you have disabled them in the fancy dialog. The only way you get them stopped is by canceling the AutoUpdates service. 🙂

      So, you thought you own your own PC, huh?

      • Thank you very much for such an in depth comment! You are completely correct about Google Updater. When I wrote this I had completely forgotten about it (clearly). I actually disabled it in msconfig on my new laptop yesterday, having remembered it. I will update the post to mention it.

        Perhaps I ought to write a post about how all these things run in the background – and that they really shouldn’t without at least telling you. It’s no surprise that people who aren’t used to using computers find their computers gradually slow down – it’s all those background processes and services that build up.

    • I have Options>Advanced>Update ticked off, but Firefox is still extremely slow to startup. I used speedyfox to try to make it load faster the first time but it is still v.slow. And I have 1.25 GB RAM.

      • I think it’s definitely something Firefox, and many other programs, need to work on. Many people, myself included, can get frustrated if a program doesn’t load very fast, or as fast as a similar program.

        I’ll have to take a look at speedyfox, thanks for mentioning it. Thanks also for leaving a comment, I really love the interaction with readers.

    • I wanted to add your site to my feed reader, but it won’t let me. Any idea what I am doing wrong?

    • @chbidmead because FF uses a web form, but iPhone apps have to use the Twitter API.

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