Recently Firefox 100 has been released, an event that is more symbolic than anything else, although Mozilla has emphasized it with a message of thanks shown to all those who have executed it. Do not misunderstand, when I speak of symbolism, I am referring only to the psychological impact that the number 100 has, nothing more.
Firefox 100 maintains the good progress that the browser has shown in recent months, a good performance that, unfortunately, is not helping it to climb in user share, as it currently lags behind the current Microsoft Edge, based on Chromium and with official version for Linux.
It’s no secret that I’m a staunch Wayland advocate, so I use Firefox practically out of obligation because it’s the only major web browser with mature support for the graphical protocol. Until January 2022 I used the RPM version provided by Fedora, which has Wayland support enabled by default, and from that date I started using the Flatpak build hosted on Flathub, whose Wayland support can be easily enabled with Flatseal.
In other words, I have been following the evolution of Firefox closely for a long time, but with the perspective of a simple end-user. I think it is a good application, with a debugger/inspector in my opinion superior to Chromium and interesting possibilities such as containers that allow you to start different sessions on the same website. However, ordinary users will rarely use such features and, to be honest, at least until recently it crashed against Chromium in the most basic of web browsers, which is web browsing itself.
The fact that my motivations for using Firefox were based mainly on principles and my stubbornness to use Wayland made my opinion of the application not correspond to the hours of use I dedicated to it. The truth is that the browsing experience was clearly inferior to Chromium, the font rendering is worse and also suffered from stability problems. I had decided to migrate to Brave as soon as the Wayland support offered by Chromium was mature, but circumstances are starting to change in favor of Mozilla’s browser.
Mozilla is late, very late
While my experience with Firefox over the past few years has not been idyllic, I have to admit that the application has improved tremendously over the course of the last year. Since the establishment of the Proton interface, loved by some and hated by others (I’m one of the former), I’ve noticed a steady improvement that is starting to lay the foundation for me to keep it for good, even in case Chromium’s support for Wayland finishes maturing.
The first thing I’ve been noticing is that the Firefox experience on Wayland is becoming more and more polished and today I don’t notice any major shortcoming or defect compared to Xorg, with the added bonus of the greater fluidity that Wayland brings and the priority it enjoys when it comes to having hardware acceleration support. Hopefully soon the support for the protocol will start automatically, something that has begun to be seen in the Nightly channel.
All this evolution around Wayland and hardware acceleration support is largely the result of the involvement of Red Hat, which until two years ago made more efforts than Mozilla itself to prevent Firefox for Linux from ending up totally lagging behind compared to the Windows and macOS versions.
Second, since the release of Firefox 99 I haven’t had any random crashes, which mostly occurred when I had many tabs open (usually spread over several windows) or thoroughly reorganized bookmarks, being able to delete or move hundreds of these in one go (I have more than 3,000 saved). Mozilla’s browser has dragged problems that have affected performance, memory management and even stability, but little by little I’m seeing that the application is improving to catch up with Chromium. Too bad about those websites and services that only work well with Google’s technology, which obviously contribute to the establishment of a monopoly.
Yes, Firefox is getting better, it really is, but I keep getting the feeling that Mozilla has started to get its act together too late. The foundation has been very scattered over the last decade with failed projects like Firefox OS and Lockwise while neglecting, and badly, its flagship product.
While Chromium and especially Chrome were evolving and improving at a dizzying pace thanks to Google’s powerful machinery, Mozilla decided to focus on other things and center Firefox’s virtues on advertising. As a result, Firefox ended up accumulating more than five years of technological lag, an amount of time that under normal circumstances is practically a death sentence unless your rival has an Intel-like processor failure, a circumstance that allowed AMD to rebound and get back on the hook.
Quantum should have arrived at least three years earlier and what can we say about Servo, that great technological promise that has ended up being smoke managed by The Linux Foundation. In addition to the rendering engine itself, there are features such as multiprocessing and multimedia support that ended up putting Chromium far ahead of Firefox. What’s more, Chromium and Chrome showed overwhelming leadership at the multimedia support level until the appearance of the original Edge, which is now a dead project.
It’s sad to see that Mozilla has had to bite the bullet to start getting its act together and take care of the only bastion it has left: Linux. Today, even among Windows and macOS users it is assumed that if Firefox is still alive it is thanks to Linux users.
In short, using Firefox is once again a pleasant and enjoyable experience, but I can’t help but feel some frustration at the fact that Mozilla could have got its act together 10 years earlier to prevent its browser from struggling not to dominate the web, but to avoid disappearing.
Firefox, a technological resurrection that may be in vain
It is obvious that, after seeing that it was looming over the abyss, Mozilla has started to get its act together so that Firefox can once again become the technology that amazed the world a decade and a half ago, that won over the followers of free software and web standards and showed Microsoft that things could be done differently. It is true that it was never the most used browser, but at its best it reached approximately one third of all desktop users.
And well, when comparing web browsers we always talk about desktop operating systems, but rarely about mobile. This has been the sector that has allowed Chrome to put the lace to Firefox through Android, where it has definitely become the new Internet Explorer.
The current Firefox for Android is based on Fenix and has left users divided due to the fact that it has brought many cuts compared to the previous technology, but in its favor it has the fact that it offers a clearly superior experience with browsing. Personally, setting the browser’s own blockers to strict allows me to dispense with uBlock Origin by stopping enough elements to have smooth browsing. On top of that, on various devices it has been more stable for me than Chrome.
Firefox is slowly being resurrected, so its biggest challenge in the future will not be so much to keep improving (which it has to do out of obligation) but to seduce users again. One of the main problems here is that the brand already smells stale to many and takes them back to that time when Chromium was giving it monumental beatings in terms of performance.