As a journalist, my Firefox browser – which I’ve been using since almost the day it arrived – is my primary research tool. It’s the place I call home. And it’s just been upgraded. It’s a big upgrade that for me will change the way it works, massively. I’m saying no.
The web is full of articles praising its developer, Mozilla, for updating it so it’s twice as fast. One article lauds “Mozilla’s mission is to keep the web open and competitive, and Firefox is how Mozilla works to endow the web with new technology like easier payments, virtual reality and fast WebAssembly-powered games.” This is endorsed by a Gartner analyst; Gartner is the biggest, and therefore the go-to analyst house in the technology industry for those needing a quote.
If you’re waiting for a ‘but’, here it is. Frankly, I don’t care how much faster it is if means I that half the functionality I’m used to is stripped away. Because that’s what allowing my browser to upgrade to the latest, greatest version would mean.
It’s all because Firefox made the clever move to open up its browser very early on to third parties, who wrote extensions to add features and functionality. I loved that idea, embraced it wholeheartedly, and now run about 20 extensions.
The new Firefox – which despite its apocalyptic upgrade moves only from version 56.02 to 57.0 – will no longer run those extensions which for me have been the most useful.
Software developers love adding new stuff and making things look new using the latest software tools. Mozilla has been no slouch in this department. Fine for developers perhaps, but as a user, this constant change is a pain in the arse, as it means I need to re-learn each time how to use the software.
So Classic Theme Restorer (CTR) is particularly precious to me, as it enables Firefox to look and feel pretty much as it did when I first started using it.
CTR puts things, such as toolbars and menus – back where they were, so they work they have always worked – and for that matter, the way that most of my software works. But after the upgrade, CTR cannot work, as the hooks provided by the browser for it to do its stuff don’t exist in the new version.
Two other extensions are key from my point of view. One gives me tree-style tab navigation to the left of the browser window, not along the top where multiple tabs pretty soon get lost. And tab grouping, a feature that disappeared a few generations of browser ago but was replaced by a couple of extensions, means you can keep hundreds of tabs open, arranged neatly by topic or project. Who wouldn’t want this if they work in the browser all day?
Meanwhile, the developers of some other extensions have given up, due to the effort involved in completely re-writing their code, while others will no doubt get there in some form or other, eventually.
Messing with look and feel
This is a serious issue. Back in the day, one of the much-touted advantages of a graphical user interface was that all software worked the same, reducing training time: if you could use one piece of software, you could use them all. No more. Where did that idea go?
Mozilla clearly thinks performance – which can instead be boosted by adding a faster CPU – is paramount. Yes, it’s important but a browser is now a key tool, and removing huge chunks of functionality is poor decision-making.
I feel like my home is being dismantled around me. The walls have shifted so that the bedroom is now where the living room used to be, the front door is at the back, and I’ve no idea where the toilet is.
Some might argue that I should suck it up and move with the times. But I don’t use a browser to interact with the technology but rather to capture information. Muscle memory does the job without having to think about the browser’s controls or their placement. If the tool gets in the way and forces me to think about how it works, it’s a failure.
So version 57 is not happening here. Not yet, anyway.