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The future of Firefox and/or Firebug (?)

Two days ago I read an article named “Firefox world loses Web dev guru to Chrome“. To sum things up, it seems like lead developer John Barton is leaving for Google’s Chrome. I was very alarmed to read this as Firebug is not only my favorite browser debugger, but because I think that Firebug is probably the number one reason for web developers to choose Firefox at all, which makes it probably the number one reason that it was able to rupture IE market dominance for Windows users. OK, OK, OK – maybe I got a little carried away. Firefox has had tons of features that made it the better alternative for IE and other browsers at the time, mainly it’s extensibility. But Firebug was, and still is, one of the preferred web debuggers out there.

It reminded me that I was also amazed several months ago when Mozilla published a list of extensions that was slowing down Firefox, with Firebug somewhere in the lead (as of this writing, Firebug is leading the list). I was amazed because although I understand Mozilla’s willingness to defend itself against those who claim that Firefox uses lots of memory, is slow and sometimes crashes, I was definitely feeling that Mozilla was also kind of “shooting themselves in the leg”, as Firefox doesn’t have a built-in alternative for Firebug, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s one of the top reasons for Firefox’s success in the first place. However, even if Firebug is slowing down the browser, it is a tool for developers and not for your average user, so being the great tool that it is, I for one am willing to “forgive”, or ignore, the performance issues caused by it. This doesn’t mean that I think Mozilla isn’t making a mistake by not fixing their memory leaks and memory load even on a Firefox that runs no extensions at all.

So, back to that article, this made me think what’s going to happen to Firebug, and how it might affect Firefox in the already tough competition with Chrome and the “reinvention” of IE as of IE9. I was thinking that there are two possibilities: Firebug will continue to exist, hoping that it’ll manage the competition, despite the quote from John Barton in that article, claiming that “Firebug hasn’t really been able to keep up with Firefox, let alone compete with other tools.” The other possibility is that Mozilla won’t have a choice now – they’ll have to provide us developers with an alternative, and this time, they won’t be able to blame others for their memory leaks. In other words, it’ll be a “do or die” scenario. Mozilla will have to provide a decent debugging alternative to keep developers from dumping Firefox in favor of Chrome. If they don’t, they risk losing even more browser market share.

I continued my reading and found some more bothering news about Firefox and Mozilla. This time it was about a talkback of one of the readers of Mike Kapli blog, who complained about the End of Life policy of Firefox, following the new rapid release of Firefox versions. The talkback explained the problem for enterprises to rely not only on rapid release, but especially on the End of Life policy. Turns out that Mozilla will retire Firefox versions quite fast. As a response, this article quoted several Mozilla managers, which basically stated that “[...] Firefox, fundamentally, is aimed at individuals, not corporations [...]

Say what??

Are you guys for real??

There are large-scale corporations who adopted Firefox as their “official browser”, such as IBM. Why give that market away? How do you expect developers to advocate a browser to their executives with such statements? Why should an executive support adopting a browser whose managers make such statements? Is it not clear that people tend to use the same browser at work and at home? What, you think that if IBM decides to replace Firefox with an alternative following such statements, those 400,000 employees are going to remain loyal to Firefox back home when they function as “individual users”? No – most of them will install the alternative at home, because that’s what they’ll get used to. Personally, while I fully understand Mozilla’s willingness to adopt Google’s rapid policy of version and End Of Life, think it’s a huge mistake to declare that Firefox isn’t targeting corporates, only individuals.

I did some more reading and found out that I was probably so frusted and shocked, that I missed a minor comment about the alternatives in the original article. Seems like Mozilla has already founded a team to work and create web developers tools, side by side with supporting Firebug. Work seems to be undergoing as of December 2010. In the developers blog, they stated that they also support Firebug directly by assigning a full time developer to that team (I also read on John Barton’s tweeter that this person is actually going to replace him as Firebug lead developer). Who knows – maybe these devtools are one of the reasons John Barton decided to leave in the first place? In the blog it was also written that:

“At this stage, Firefox needs to ship with a strong baseline set of tools for web developers. Firebug is a standalone project with a lot of history behind it and big plans for the future. We want to be able to build new tools that head in some new directions while allowing the Firebug project to continue to explore their ideas. Our goal is to help the whole developer tools ecosystem. We want to make it easier for people to hack on the built-in devtools, on Firebug and on entirely new experiments, too.”

To be honest, I’m not sure what this quote means. While I appreciate the guys for the development of the new web devtools, and maintaining & upgrading Firebug, I think that they are probably feeling comfortable with maintaining Firebug as an alternative to the devtools till they go live. Once they go live, they’ll probably stop their support of Firebug sooner or later, as there seems to be no real justification to support both. Especially when Mozilla themselves name Firebug as one of the heaviest extensions for Firefox.

In conclusion, I’m satisfied that Mozilla is developing integrated out of the box devtools; I think that Firebug has it’s days (months) numbered; and I think that Mozilla should not only produce devtools at least as good as Firebug is today, but they should also fix those memory leaks which are causing plenty of frustration, and they should also stop giving (foolish) statements about not targeting corporates. Mozilla must understand that if they don’t wake up soon and react faster, they’ll be late for the “battle” over the browser market.

 
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Posted by on 20/07/2011 in Software Development

 

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Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview 1

I was surprised to read this week that Microsoft is not only working on IE10, but has already published a Platform Preview 1 available for download since April 12th. There’s also a guide for developers available which accompanies IE 10 Platform Preview 1. In this guide you can read about several new features which are going to be supported which are compatible with the W3C Working Draft:

  1. Flexible Box (“Flexbox”) Layout, which will allow child element positioning, use unused space within the box and handle resizing and different browser resolutions.
  2. Grid Alignment, which will allow to divide a container into rows and columns for better positioning and better handling of screen resolution changes. MS’ people are the ones currently signed on this draft.
  3. Multi-column Layout Module, which allows content to be split into columns with a “gap and a rule between them”.
  4. Gradients, which allows gradient coloring of the background of graphical elements.

From a preliminary reading of these features and abstracts, it looks like the first three items are targeting not only the web developer’s usual difficulties of supporting different resolutions and browser resizing, but also the dynamic layout of the tablet world which storms upon us all.

With regards to IE10, being used to a slow delivery pace of IE browsers over the years, especially the 5 year gap in between IE6 and the release of IE7, Microsoft finally seem to realize that they have to take the browser development to a rapid pace, and especially compete with Google Chrome’s ultra quick release of their browser updates. Unfortunately my current favorite browser, Firefox, seems to lag behind, at least as far as the version numbering and the buzz involved, but not necessarily in quality. I guess that as long as Firefox maintains the leadership in extensions, or so it seems, it will still find a place amongst IE and Chrome. I’m uncertain however regarding IE’s extensions. I guess that MS has to encourage a developer community to develop more and more extensions in order to compete with Chrome and FF.

Finally – if I had just one wish to ask of Microsoft and IE10, I’d ask that they improve their sluggish Developer Tools, specifically the JavaScript debugger. There are not enough bad words in the dictionary for this utility. It’s performance is terrible when it comes to complex pages, and the debugger is not a match to Firebug or Chrome’s. I was hoping that in IE9 the Developer Tools would be better than in IE8, but I was extremely disappointed. You have to have quite a strong workstation for this or it’s a pain. Therefore I fear that in IE10, Microsoft isn’t planning on improving it and would stick to the “bad old” Developer Tools. I know that it’s supposed to be a major improvement from the Developer Toolbar we had in IE6 and IE7, but it’s so behind the competition. In order to debug JavaScript in IE, I forgo the debugger in the Developer Tools and attach Visual Studio to IE – otherwise it’s simply impossible to debug, even pages which aren’t necessarily loaded with Ajax client code. I must say that the other tabs (e.g. CSS etc.) are also not worthy competition comparing to the alternatives. In short – a major overhaul is required in this area.

All in all, I’m content that Microsoft seems to be taking on this seriously, providing faster and more standard compliant browsers. We, users and developers alike, are only expected to gain from this competition, as long as the different browser manufacturers maintain W3C standards, unlike Microsoft’s earlier browsers.

 
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Posted by on 29/04/2011 in Software Development

 

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