Today’s Scoreboard – Firefox 1.0; Broken Extensions, 8

The blog world has been abuzz with the news of the release of version 1.0 of the Firefox browser. I’ve been using the Firefox browser from the early days when it was known as Firebird.
To be accurate, I use both Internet Explorer and Firefox, which seems to be a necessity these days since the pop-up blockers of the browsers break websites in inconsistent ways. For example, I couldn’t see some important parts of this morning in Firefox, but I could in IE. Other sites break in the opposite direction. Just another day on the web in 2004.
I’ve become pretty ambidextrous in my use of the browsers and agnostic about the current edition of the great browser wars.
I’ve generally lived in the IE world for many years, but, frankly, IE has gotten boring and I’ve never liked the way Favorites work.
Based only on my own experiences, I rank the Netscape browser of the 90s as the buggiest program I’ve ever used. Some of the books and articles on the history of Netscape suggest that there were good reasons for me to draw that conclusion.
I was a little reluctant to try Firebird/Firefox, but I was won over by the Open Source approach and the rewrite of the Netscape rendering engine.
Most important, however, I was attracted to the tabbed browsing feature. I’ve been a fan of tabbed browsing since I discovered the now-defunct Clickgarden browser suite a few years ago.
So, lately I find that I was spending more and more time in Firefox as it gradually, and at times painfully, moved toward the version 1.0 release. I’ve experienced horrific crashes using earlier versions of Firebox, wacky problems, and I don’t even try to handle PDF files in Firefox anymore, an approach I’ve found that other long-time Firefox users have adopted. Don’t even get me started on my experiences trying to use Firefox themes.
However, the tabbed browsing and some usability features that I prefer keep pulling me back. And, since it was in beta, I knew and accepted the risks.
The other feature of Firefox that I really want to like is the extensions. I love the idea of extensions – small add-on programs that give you new, specific functionalities. I like many of the extensions I’ve installed. The concept is so cool and it represents a community and open approach to the browser.
The problem is that everytime I update Firefox, most of my extensions get broken. Installing extensions has often been a baffling and frustrating process. At one point, the default settings kept you from installing extensions and, believe, it was not intuitive what setting changes you needed to make.
Without looking too hard, you might easily find 100 blog posts in the last day or so announcing the releasing of version 1.0 of Firefox and urging everyone to drop Internet Explorer to move immediately to Firefox. You will also see rave reviews of Firefox from people who have only used it for a day or so.
Often, the main argument in these reviews (other than that Firefox is not a Microsoft product) is that Internet Explorer has so many security problems that you need to move to Firefox to be “safe” when you browse. People need to know that Firefox has had its own legacy of security problems. Let me be clear on this point: moving to Firefox doesn’t eliminate your need to pay attention to browser security problems and your need to watch for patches and updates. I am critical of Firefox’s approach of simply describing new versions as “more secure” rather than clearly stating that they contain important security patches. I have a suspicion that Microsoft would be criticized ever so slightly if it took that approach.
That said, here is my experience after installing version 1.0 today.
Eight of the extensions I installed in the latest pre-release candidate are broken. Probably updates will be available in the next few days. I downloaded and attempted to intall two new extensions. When you download a new extension, you will get a message that you need to close and restart Firefox in order to install the extensions. Many openings and closings of Firefox later, the extensions are not installed and I get the same message. I assume that if I reboot my computer they will install.
Here’s my conclusion. I like Firefox a lot. I’m using it right now (in this case, it’s IE that has the pop-up blocker problems). I’d like to see it succeed. I’ll use it on a regular basis. However, I think that the euphoric and uncritical response to Firefox is troubling. There’s a story called the “Emperor’s New Clothes” that some of the people cheerleading for Firefox might want to read.
Firefox has tons of potential, but it’s clearly a version 1.0 product, not a version 2.0, 3.0 or even a 6.0 product.
For experienced and tolerant users, Firefox has much to recommend it, but for the average and novice users, and for less tolerant and less patient users, Firefox may well turn into a source of frustration. The over-hyping of Firefox may well create a backlash against the product simply because it does not meet overblown expectations created by this rapturous response to its official release. And I say that as a fan of Firefox and Open Source in general, but not a fan wearing rose-colored glasses.