Firefox Calls Out Slow Loading Add-ons

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One of the things that makes Mozilla’s Firefox browser so versatile is the wide array of add-ons and plugins users can use to customize exactly how the browser looks, works and feels. Plenty of addons, like Firebug, add functionality that goes above and beyond what is necessary in a standard web browser. However, all of that extra code comes from other developers without any oversight from Mozilla. The result can be problematic.

firefox-slow-loading-add-onsWhen Google Chrome first came out, the first thing people noticed was how fast it started. The chorus of users claiming that Firefox had gotten too big, too bloated and too slow grew louder. Firefox developers worked hard to streamline the code and make Firefox faster and more efficient, but for some users, the improvements were not enough. Much like me, they began to use Chrome as their quick browser and Firefox as their power browser. Of course, the constantly running googleudatetaskuser process annoyed me enough to keep it from leaping to the front of the good resource usage pack.

It turns out that Firefox’s slower loading may not be its own fault. Users who load their browser down with numerous new addons and plugins are adding not just functionality but more code to run at startup as well. The result is a slow loading web browser that cannot be fixed by making Firefox faster.

No longer willing to take the blame for slow starting web browsers, Mozilla’s Firefox development team began calling add-on developers out by publishing a listing of the most popular Firefox addons showing how much they slow down the boot process of Firefox.

One popular developer plugin, called Firebug, slows the startup time of Firefox by 74 percent. Put another way, the load time of Firefox is nearly twice as long if you have Firebug running. This is sobering news, both for Firebug developers, and Firebug users.

As a website developer and freelance technology writer, I both publish and write for numerous websites. I have the Firebug extension installed on my Firefox browser because I occasionally need some of its features. For example, Firebug can show me which links on a webpage are nofollow links. It is also necessary to run Google’s Page Speed plugin which analyzes how quickly a webpage loads and provides suggestions to make it load faster.

I do not need to use Firebug all of the time, however. In fact, I only use it a few times each week. But, with Firebug installed, my Firefox browser starts slower, much slower. By disabling Firebug and only re-enabling it when I actually need its functionality, my browser starts much more quickly. (I have long disabled unused add-ons to make Firefox snappier, but I never suspected Firebug of being a big speed killer.)

With this new spotlight on add-on speed, developers may refocus some attention on making their plugins more efficient. As a result, Firefox will start faster and load more quickly. In turn, some users may find the startup time of Firefox so quick without numerous bloated add-ons installed that they don’t need a “quick browser” anymore and they can just use Firefox all of the time.

It’s a win-win situation for Mozilla and users. For developers, it’s time to re-evaluate how well their code is written.

Of course, this is only half the problem. Since Firefox is still the only major web browser that requires a full restart to enable or disable an add-on, users are forced to decide what functionality they want to enable ahead of time or wait for a Firefox restart when they change the state of a plugin. No matter how fast Firefox starts up starting (or restarting) it three or four times to get the right functions working makes is slower and less usable than its competition which already allow on-the-fly enabling and disabling of add-ons.

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