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Thinking About Upgrading to Firefox 3.0? Think Again!

By  Jul 2, 2008

Topics: Programming, Eclipse, C/C++

I did it. I installed Firefox 3.0 after hearing all those wonderful stories about lightning-fast downloading of Web pages, "better user experience" and all that yada yada yada. It took me less than an hours to uninstall Firefox 3.0 and downgrade to bad old Firefox 2.0.5. Along the way, I reached some grim insights about the state of commercial software in 2008.  

The first ominous sign in any, repeat any, software installation file is that the latest version is twice, thrice or 10 times bigger than the previous version. Firefox 3.0 exemplifies this principle clearly. The bloat may be attributed to some really cool new features (which I have yet to discover), but as we've all learned so many times before, most of these bells and whistles end up as useless features in the best case, or horrible annoyances that get in your way. With respect to page download time, I noticed an insignificant improvement but this effect can be attributed to any new installation of a Web browser. Another annoyance which typifies Microsoft software is the endless number of spurious warnings about outwardly dangerous and unsafe operations. I'm not talking about surfing in phishing sites or passing my credit card number via a non-encrypted page. I'm talking about customizing my browser with an "about:config" command! Mozilla is becoming too similar to Microsoft -- in a bad way, I regret to say.

You could live with certain annoyances here and there but the most exasperating "feature" is that the address box now tries to be über-smart, sticking in your face dozens of recently visited sites instead of simply auto-completing the letters that you have just typed. 90% of the time, that über-smart-mind-reading-super-clever-auto-completion gets it wrong and there's no way (at least not that I could find one) to make the goddamned thing shut up and let you type the complete URL in the good old fashion!

OK, it's still a beta version, and the Mozilla team are happy to receive feedback from users but frankly, this phenomenon occurs too often in the software world -- vendors stick harmful features without checking first whether users really need those features or at least have a way to turn them off. This leads me to question whether these folks have ever bothered to take a system analysis course (it's never too late, btw!) The first stage in the life cycle of a new project is: investigate what the users want, not what the development team thinks users want. It's called "requirement analysis", and sadly, I can't point my finger at a single piece of software that I've used recently which has been developed according to this principle. Vista is perhaps the best example of a colossal failure to heed users' needs. This unfortunate mistake has cost Microsoft (and millions of innocent users) billions of dollars. Have the hacks from Redmond learned their lesson from it? I suspect they haven't because Windows 7.0 is rumored to include yet-again mega-cool features that no one has ever asked for (and I bet Windows 7.0 name will be even sillier than Vista!).

 Several years ago I reviewed SlickEdit 8.0. It was supposed to be the ultimate C++ IDE (according to the tremendous Eclipse hype, at least) but I soon realized that it was the worst IDE I'd ever tested. The SlickEdit development team was enamored of silly over-hyped patterns called perspectives that were originally developed for Java users, heaven bless them for tolerating those perspectives. There's no nice way to put it, but perspectives were the dumbest and most useless feature that any IDE could impose on its users. Why were they incorporated into the IDE then? I can't find a rational explanation for that. Imagine this: you run your C++ app through an IDE. Instead of just pressing "Step" to prcoceed to the next line of code, you have to tell the IDE which, errrmm,  p e r s p e c t i v e  you want to use! There's a "debug" perspective, "test" perspective and a few other Eclipse concepts that heaven knows why there were invented in the first place. Now think of another example: you're reading a newspaper on the bus. Instead of just reading it, you must choose a perspective first! What a brilliant notion! 

Firefox 3.0 über-smart mind-reading super clever auto-completion is similar to perspectives or indeed, Windows Vista -- it is something that's changed for the sake of change itself, even if the original product wasn't broken in the first place, and even if the change will terribly annoy users.

Sorry Mozilla, if you keep imitating Microsoft, I might even revert to IE again!

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