Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SOT: Who is the fairest browser of them all?

I have long been a fan of Firefox. But somewhere in between versions 2 and 3.5 it started behaving like a black-hole of resources, sucking up more and more memory, growing increasing sluggish. Not to mention taking forever to start up. So fickle user that I am, I have been trying out other browsers while I give Firefox one last chance before giving it the boot.

Of course one of the browsers I am (re-)trying is Chrome. I did use it briefly when it first came out. But quickly gravitated back to my beloved Firefox, with all of its wonderful extensions and flexible configuration. But I will admit Chrome is extremely fast. No news there. What was a nice surprise was its mini-Task-Manager (Shft-Esc) and the "Stats for Geeks" breakdown.

Meanwhile, I did some file shuffling and installed a completely fresh copy of FireFox 3.5.5. Just to see if I could get a sense of whether the true culprit was FireFox itself, a specific setting or one of my plugins. I tried to start with as little functionality and minimal settings as possible. Not all of them are relevant. But in the interest of full disclosure, here is a run down of the changes I made to the default settings:

- *Disabled* all of the plugins detected by default (EXCEPT Shockwave Flash

I always wondered why my plugin list displayed certain entries I never added explicitly. It turns out it is due to Firefox's automatic scan for common plugins:

- *Added* Echofon (aka TwitterFox)

- *Changed* Remember browsing history to (at least 30 days)
- *Disabled* Remember search and form history
- *Enabled* Clear history when Firefox closes: everything

- *Changed* Cache settings to use up to 30MB
Reason: Sometime after upgrading to FF3+, I noticed the autosuggest feature in the location bar had changed. It got progressively slower over time. So I am experimenting with a lower history threshold to see how it performs (before taking the extreme step of disabling it entirely).

- *Disabled* Java (No point enabling it since I disabled the plugin)

- *Changed* Show a blank page

- *Changed* When updates to Firefox are found: (Ask me what I want to do)

So far Firefox is doing a lot better. Definitely faster, though maybe not quite as fast as Chrome. At one point I had 15 tabs open in Firefox (only one with Flash Content). Firefox peaked at around 160-180M memory usage in the windows Task Manager and still remained very responsive.

Now to start adding back a plugin at a time, and wait for ugly things to happen. Though I have to say I am enjoying reading some of the more creative ways people express their displeasure with the latest versions of Firefox.

Update November 19, 2009: I am now experimenting with the Firefox 3.6b3 beta and also a plugin called AFOM 2.0 for memory management. (Note: I do not know if this plugin officially supports 3.6b3 yet). But the results from my limited testing seem very promising. (Windows only)

Update November 27, 2009: While the plugin helps, there are still issues. I think it is time to declare defeat. The memory problem is definitely Firefox!


Paul Hastings November 18, 2009 at 7:31 PM  

as i said on twitter , i've seen FF 3.5.5 hit >1gb. it was at 50% CPU & >500mb just now (and had to be killed off via the task manager). i was blaming that on the flash client beta but if you're seeing the same thing w/the release version i guess it might be FF after all :-(

i was looking at the plugins & noticed that .NET thing got back in somehow (i'm pretty sure i had disabled it before). i've ripped it out completely & will try FF one last time before i scurry away to chrome.

cfSearching November 18, 2009 at 9:26 PM  


Well so far it has been better with a clean installation. It did hit ~160M. But that was with 15+ tabs open ;) The difference this time is FF did not turn sluggish or freeze up like it usually does.

I tried the same with Chrome and it actually had higher memory usage for the same number of windows. Though a different allocation of memory/virtual memory. Of course it was still faster than FF. But again, so far Firefox is behaving better than it has in months (fingers crossed).

RE: Plugins, yes that automatic scan seems to adds a whole bunch of stuff you may not necessarily want :/

I am almost wondering if the problem was due to the poor implementation of the history/autosuggest feature? I was definitely a source of freeze-ups before I reinstalled. Now with little to no history, everything is working smoothly .. hmmm.


cfSearching November 18, 2009 at 9:30 PM  

BTW: I forgot to say ... while I have seen FF behave poorly, >1gb is absolutely appalling. You might as well get separate computer just to run FF ;-)

cfSearching November 19, 2009 at 1:35 PM  

A quick follow-up. I installed the AFOM 2.0 add-on and noticed an immediate ,and positive, effect on memory. Though I believe it is for windows only.


Sebastiaan en Jonathan December 1, 2009 at 12:50 AM  

cfSearching: Have you tried Opera? Especially the latest build, 10.10 is excellent, fast en has a bunch of developer tools that mimick what FireFox gives you. Oh, and did I mention all the plugins and possibilities to customize your browser? Oh, and not to forget, it's FAST! Oh, and while I'm at it, memoryconsumption is low, even with MANY tabs open ;-)

Give it a try!

cfSearching December 1, 2009 at 3:14 AM  


I have not used Opera in a lo-o-ng time. But hmm.. your mention of developer tools and plugins have convinced me to give it another try ;-)


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