Firefox 3.0 suggestions

The Firefox people, just about to release version 2.0 of the browser, have put up a wiki page asking for feature requests and suggestions for future Firefoxes. Now, that to me sounds like a great idea. And then I looked at the list. There are already about four hundred suggestions on the list. As far as I can tell, damned nearly every one of them is useless. Let’s examine the reasons for uselessness.

Things that already exist
  • I would like to see an option that would allow me to click on a link and it open in a new window or tab and not leave the page I’m on until the new window/tab has fully loaded.” That’s load-tabs-in-the-background, which I have turned on right now.
  • When a numeric portion of the URL in the address bar is highlighted, allow it to be incremented/decremented using the mouse wheel.” If you want Pornzilla, you know where to find it.
  • Or a variant that could be run from an usb stick, that you could use your personalised browser anywhere.” Portable Firefox.
  • Make it possible to have firefox started as a new process with a switch (firefox.exe -np) to be able to have two instances running in case you are testing something that crashes the browser.” Just create a second profile and launch with it.
  • Tab Exposé”. Foxpose.
Things that clearly belong in an extension
  • These days, we seem to be only allowed to “save as” in HTML or text. This then means we have to use time-consuming external programs instead of it being a quick and easy drop-down selection. Please give us back our old “save as” options [ed: as PDF, etc]and also include a new ODF “save as” option.” This sort of thing is operating system level, not Firefox level. Install CutePDF on Windows; Macs can already print to PDF; everything can already print to PostScript. I can vaguely see the use of some of these, but “I want to save this as PostScript” is such a geek edge-case anyway that doing it through Print To File is hardly a barrier.
  • I found a plug-in for Firefox that colored your tabs, but it was random. I would like to see user-picked colors for specific domains.” Interesting use-case (a synaesthete), and he says he’ll write it himself, so that’s good; it’s an extension, though. Not Firefox core.
Things that are basically impossible to do
  • Sessions/Tabs Isolation: Make sure sessions from other tabs do not leak between tabs. This is a major security hazard.” What this means is that every tab is an independent browser. Firefox’s memory usage would go through the roof. This goes double for people who say “one tab crashing shouldn’t crash anything else”, which means that every tab is a separate process.
  • Make the browser open faster; that is the number one reason that I have heard for people not using Firefox or switching from Firefox.” I love this. As if they could easily do this but have deliberately made it slow to annoy people.
  • Use heuristics to try and avoid caching sensitive data for autocompletion. For example, if something looks like a credit card number or social security number, don’t cache it.” I assume that means “like a US Social Security number”, right? Or will you not mind if you enter what you think is a phone number and it refuses to cache it because it looks like a Russian SSN?
Make Firefox into Internet Explorer
  • Allow an option run a downloaded setup file (in the place of “open”) instead of saving it, like in Internet Explorer.” There is a reason it doesn’t do this. It should not be easy to click a web exe and have it run!
  • Add fallback mode to support non-standards based rendering when “IE only” features are present in a web page so that the page will render correctly.” This means: completely implement total compatibility with IE. As if it were made easy by saying it. Let alone that Firefox policy is generally, when faced with a choice, to do it right rather than to emulate IE.
  • I know it might be heretical, but it would make life easier for some of us Ajaxy types if Firefox bit the bullet and supported IE style drag and drop.” I’m sure it would.
  • There are quite a few “turn Firefox into Opera” requests, too. Why not just use Opera if that’s what you want?
Things that are moronic
  • Allow us to specify which order each plugin will sit in.” Why? WHy is this even remotely useful?
  • Send Theme name and version currently in use in the HTTP headers.”
  • dual screened tabs. two tabs showing in the same window pane, almost like frames. with ability to drag and resize viewing area between the two tabs.” Just open a second window!
  • Make proprietary Anchor mode: Make possible custom anchors like this:url#custom(0,555), this would make firefox scroll 0pixel to left and 555pixel down.” Why is it a good idea to make only Firefox understand these? Did we learn nothing at all from the mid-nineties?
  • Show the MD5 Checksum of each download after its finishied.” Why? What’s the point? If you even understand the word MD5 you’re quite capable of running md5sum, and if the website doesn’t publish md5s then it’s useless information anyway!
  • Move all MPL code to GPL.” Yes! Make that suggestion to Microsoft for IE as well!
  • Rather than pop up annoying dialogs when a site has a bad security certificate, simply perform the encryption without showing the lock icon.” What do you think certificates are for? Yes, it’s a pain to see the window, and yes, the window’s not brilliantly designed, but the answer isn’t just to turn it off!
  • I think the possibility to setup and use a socket connection for client-server communications would be a great improvement for Firefox to use it in Web2.0 / intranet-webapplications. I know it’s already possible, but it requires ‘signed/secure javascript’ through a plugin to deploy the possibilities, but it would (and should) be a lot easier if a could just setup a javascript object.” You want JavaScript to be unrestrictedly allowed to open socket connections? Ahahaha. No.

If you strip out all of those, then you’re left with barely anything. More importantly, there’s nothing actually good left in the list; it’s all little incremental improvements. Is Firefox really so good that no-one can think of anything it might do differently? It’s the perfect execution of the web browser concept? It surely isn’t. I intend to lay out a few thoughts on what I’d like to see happen in a future post, but for now I’ll just say: can’t we do better than this? To be honest, I’m being unfair. There are some good suggestions in the list. What disappoints me is the lack of decent solutions, the lack of vision. Most of the ones that are in my “it already exists” category above (and there are many that I didn’t highlight; the above is just a selection) are things where I happen to know that it exists but I can understand that users do not. I need to go through the Firefox list and update it with some of these complaints or pointers to existing implementation, so that people can know. The moronic suggestions, by contrast, tend to be things that fall foul of Raymond Chen’s “what would happen if it actually did this?” thought experiment.

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