It's no secret that Firefox has long been our favourite browser, but much has changed recently. The browser landscape is increasingly competitive, so with that in mind, we'd like to suggest a few features and improvements we're desperate to see from Firefox.
The Big Stuff
Let's start with the five features and fixes we're most eager to see addressed:
1. Better Memory Management
The bane of Firefox in recent years, climbing memory footprints reaching gigabyte proporitions have been common for many users. We've highlighted more methods than you can shake a stick at for speeding up Firefox and improving its sometimes out-of-control memory use, but it should behoove the folks at Mozilla to get to the bottom of this issue, one way or another—and users shouldn't have to learn 18 obscure tricks to take care of it themselves. It's not just about memory, either; if Firefox memory ran high but the browser stayed snappy, that'd be one thing—but that's just not the case. And even though some tests show Firefox winning the memory battle against other browsers, the fact of the matter is this: If users are commonly experiencing serious browser slowdowns because of a skyrocketing memory footprint over time, then all the tests in the world don't really make it better.
2. Syncing of Everything
Xmarks (formerly Foxmarks) has been around and helping us sync browser bookmarks for years (and now passwords as well); more recently, Mozilla Weave has added bookmark, password, history, and tab syncing—not a bad start. But the pie-in-the-sky sync we've never seen but have been dying for ever since Firefox was born is extension syncing. Beyond that, we'd love to see full preference syncing, as well. (We've done our best to sync our extensions and profiles across computers by rolling our own solution, but it's not perfect.) As Kevin put it when I asked him for his biggest Firefox wish: "When I reinstall Firefox, or switch to another computer, I want my add-ons, settings, bookmarks, passwords, and even my last set of tabs open to come on over, or be brought in with a click." Hear hear.
3. Backwards Compatibility for Extensions
We've performed the same song and dance every single time Firefox updates: We turn off compatibility checking in new releases of Firefox so that our old extensions will work with the new release even though they haven't specifically been updated for it. We understand what Mozilla is trying to do here—presumably good extensions are actively updated, right? And we want to make sure that all our extensions jive with new releases. But the fact is, some extensions are so simple that the kind developer who dedicated her time to creating the extension may not be interested in changing a version number inside the extension's source every time Firefox updates—leaving most to either come to terms with the fact that their must-have extension is now in the dead pool or hoping that some other generous soul will take on the extension as their own personal project. The point is, if Microsoft were making every program virtually unusable every single time Windows updated, people would be pissed. The folks at Firefox need to think of some way to address this issue and allow for backwards compatibility with their add-ons.
4. A Tool to Diagnose Bad Extensions
If it's possible, extensions are both the most attractive thing about Firefox while simultaneously being an enormous thorn in its side. We're often led to believe that Firefox memory problems arise as the result of bad extensions that leak memory and/or slow down the 'fox. That's all fine and dandy, but how is the general (or hell, even the power user) supposed to know which extensions are slowing his/her browser to a crawl—apart from the tedious-as-hell disable/enable troubleshooting dance (which, frankly, rarely works all that well under any but the most obvious of circumstances). We'd suggest Firefox look into something similar to what they've done in Internet Explorer 8 (yeah, you read that correctly—in IE): The Manage Add-ons tool in IE8 displays the load time for all your add-ons to give you an idea what toolbars and extensions are slowing down your load time. If it were possible (and I surely don't know if it is), it'd be even better to see an additional column displaying memory usage.
5. Tab Isolation à la Google Chrome
We know the folks at Mozilla are already working on this one, but when Google introduced Chrome and showed us how it isolated each tab as a separate process so that a bum tab wouldn't crash the entire browser, and how you can see how much memory each tab is using, they left Firefox (and every other browser) in the dust on this one—meaning we probably won't see content processes in Firefox for at least a year. Bummer.
In addition to the five big ones we listed above, here's a quick rundown of some niggling little annoyances and much-desired tweaks we'd like to see addressed:
- We want to see spellchecker suggestions that include items in your custom dictionary (i.e., words you've added to the Firefox dictionary by right-clicking and selecting Add to Dictionary).
- I'd kill to see the keyword filed in the regular bookmark dialog. It's there when you right-click on a bookmark and select properties, and it's a necessary component of my absolute favourite Firefox productivity booster. In contrast, the tag field is in the bookmark dialog by default, and I've never once used that.
- I want to be able to right-click on bookmarks inside folders to delete or edit them in OS X. This may sound nitpicky (and it is), but it's also extremely annoying if you've ever butted up against this one. You can do it in Windows, but if you want to edit or delete a bookmark inside a folder on your bookmarks toolbar in OS X, you have to open the bookmark manager to do it—and that's a place I never desire to go.
So there's a quick look at our main Firefox wishlist. Our passion regarding what we'd like to see improved in Firefox is a testament to how much we love it, but some of our wishes—like the memory management issue—are things that need to be addressed if Firefox is going to remain in its privileged position. We certainly didn't hit every angle, so if you've got your own list of wishes and or gripes, let's hear them in the comments.