Firefox 57, from a demanding user’s point of view (that’s me)

So, here it is. The good people at Mozilla have decided to change a lot of things in Firefox 57, Quantum — like Quantum leap, clever eh?

I have Firefox Developer Edition on my work PC (Windows 7), which enabled me to see what would break in advance with the advent of Quantum, what would work better, etc. on my home PC, where a normal Firefox runs on my Ubuntu.

I was very grumpy at first because so many extensions stopped working: TabGroups, HeadingsMap, Juicy Studio Accessibility Toolbar, Scrapbook, Web Developer Toolbar, HTTPS Everywhere, uBlock Origin, aXe Developer Tools! What was I going to do, for Pete’s sake!

I talked a bit with friends who work in Mozilla, who told me that the story was twofold: they wanted to aim for much greater speed (the Quantum engine, if I understand correctly) and to rationalise the way add-ons were developed, by adopting the WebExtensions standard (already adopted by a number of browsers). The idea (again, if I understand correctly) is that extensions are more strictly controlled and sandboxed (for security and performance issues) and more easily portable between browsers.

I was not happy to see so many extensions go, especially TabGroups that had become one of my most useful add-ons: when you work on several projects at the same time, you can easily switch from one configuration to another. What the hell, I had to resort to bookmarking in folders again, like we did 15 years ago.

As time went by and Quantum’s release date approached, a lot add-ons were ported to WebExtensions, so the transition ended up being less painful than expected. Those work now:

  • Web Developer Toolbar,
  • HTTPS Everywhere,
  • uBlock Origin,
  • aXe Developer Tools,
  • Wallabagger,
  • User-Agent Switcher.

Those don’t:

  • TabGroups (this will hopefully soon be replaced by Conex, although one problem with closing/opening tabs still remains unsolved),
  • HeadingsMap (this was very useful and I miss it a lot),
  • Juicy Studio Accessibility Toolbar (more or less replaced with aXe and some elbow grease),
  • Scrapbook (sorely missed, this one; I see there’s an experimental replacement and will keep an eye on it).

(Side note: I’m only listing the “main” extensions I use, some can be done without, such as Bookmark Favicon changer, and a nice little thing that enabled a search to always open in a new window – I got rid of it anyway by changing the browser.search.openintab to true in about:config, thank you for the magic of hackability! While I was at it, I disabled Pocket through extensions.pocket.enabled:false because who needs it when you have Wallabag, eh?)

All in all, with patience, things will get sorted out. A few months ago I was pestering my Mozilla friends, saying this “bold move” was killing the Firefox ecosystem, especially after the Electrolysis migration a year ago. Some people, on the contrary, said it was a double-or-nothing move, to either get back on the front of the scene or to disappear for lack of a broad enough user base. I’m not a psychic, and I hope they were right and I was wrong, really.

I still want to use Firefox, because Mozilla’s values are mine, and it’s not because Chrome is free that I’ll use it: too much of the world is being sucked in by Google as it is. Indeed Firefox is faster now, and from what I hear it uses less disk access and more memory – or something.

I’ve supported Firefox since it was in 0.1, back when it was called Phoenix and the browser choice was sparse. And I still support it, because yes, I feel safe with it, and I feel empowered. So yay Quantum, and crossing fingers for Firefox to keep on living for a long time.

Comments

  • Lamecarlate (21 November 2017)

    My point, exactly :)

    I’ve used Firefox for less long than you (maybe the 1.0 version?), but it’s my browser of choice, of heart; when I try a different one (Maxthon, Chrome, Chromium, Opera, Vivaldi)… I always return to Firefox because it suits me better.

    And this Quantum leap (very good pun, but I expected no less from you) was a bit painful, essentially for TabGroups. Buuuut I had a Firefox crash about two days before the update, and my daily backups were scrambled (I as copying sessionstore.js but I didn’t know the session was changed for sessionstore.jsonlz4 for months. So, no backup.). I managed to transform the last .jsonlz4 recovery to an HTML page with links. So my 700 tabs in 4 groups are now in a page, and occasionaly I open one, read it, close it. It’s almost a good thing :D

    Long live Firefox!

    Reply to Lamecarlate

  • Marco (last Monday)

    Dear Stéphane,

    I totally agree with you!

    I stumbled on your page searching Google on how to have the Web Developer Toolbar back again.

    I’m running FF since it was still Netscape: it’s a while… On my Slackware box I have an experimental user running FF57, and another one, the main user, still running FF56 with all the wonderful extensions I gathered during many years (and a very custom User-Agent expressing my disapproval of 57 to whoever read the server logs).

    At your list I add my own list of 57’s drawbacks…

    - tabs: why can’t I decide if I want them above or below the address bar? BTW, I think below makes change faster. And for the tabs grouping I’m keeping an eye on Conex.

    - search engines: why can’t I see which engine will be used when I right-click a word on a page, and why can’t I switch it easily? While writing code it saves a lot of time to search directly on php.net or into mysql reference manual rather than reaching the pages via Google (which will then "suggest" tons of expensive online courses for beginners, just like it "suggest" a list of fancy resorts when you look for the name of a microscopic village in the middle of nowhere).

    - Web Developer Bar below the address bar: would be nice to have it back there, instead of the small cog in the corner!

    - Greasemonkey: the new version is "backward incompatible", but this is a minor annoyance, requiring just a bit of funny hacking.

    I hope soon or later the most of these issues will be resolved.

    Long live Firefox, and have a bright future!

    Reply to Marco

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