Browsing for Browsers

I hate to say this, but I’m getting fed up with Firefox. Once it was a slick, sharp, sane alternative to Internet Explorer, but lately it’s become a liability.

My gripe in particular is the way it hogs memory. My normal, everyday browsing — which I don’t think is excessive — causes it to leap up to 450 megs of RAM in no time at all. That’s a quarter of my total memory, and it’s ridiculous. Closing tabs down doesn’t release any of this memory, either; once Firefox grabs it, it doesn’t let go. (Yes I know there are settings that supposedly control this. I’ve tried them. They don’t work.)

Firefox has succumbed to that all-too-common disease of software; it’s become painfully bloated. And from the previews of Firefox 3 I’ve seen, it’s getting worse, not better. Why this has happened will be evident in a moment.

The one thing that has really made me reluctant to part with Firefox is ad blocking. In addition to blocking pop-ups, Firefox has an extension, AdBlock Plus, that blocks ads from showing up. Here’s the Onion’s front page, without AdBlock:

And with it:

You can see why this is a feature I like. Unfortunately, only Firefox seems to have this ability (even as an add-on). However, it’s been pointed out to me that I could instead use my hosts file to accomplish the same thing! Not only would it take care of the situation in any browser, it would do so without having to add code to the browser itself, so it can keep its slim memory footprint.

Since I’m free to now consider any browser, I’ve been trying to compare them, but that’s not easy to do. Here’s an analogy of what I’m going through when reading comparisons:

“The Mr. Coffee Cupmaster 3000 is not a good coffee maker because it doesn’t have integrated bunk beds.”

What? I’ll be reading a discussion on browsers and find out that this guy gives a certain one low marks because it doesn’t have a built-in Email or Bittorrent client. No, it doesn’t. Because it’s a web browser. When I want to read email or download a torrent, I’ll open that client, and I’ll thank my browser for not running that software when I don’t need it. In the iPhone era, though, being both a floor wax and a dessert topping is something to emulate, not to parody. Hence, the bloat above.

This weekend I’m going to try out Safari and Opera and see how they do. If I were interested in fairness I would also try out whatever the latest version of Internet Explorer is, but I’m not interested in fairness. I’ll see how well they do with the hosts file trick. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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6 Responses to Browsing for Browsers

  1. Dorian says:

    I use the latest version of IE at work. The only good thing I can think to say about it is that it’s an improvement over the previous version of IE.

  2. Jeff says:

    Gabe and I use Safari a lot — I think we each have a different version. They both crash A LOT.

  3. Krinn DNZ says:

    As I understand it, though, the hosts file trick has a couple of drawbacks. First, it’s a little harder to update automatically than ABP’s filter subscriptions – the second is that since it gets consulted for all network connections, a large hosts file such as is needed for effective adblocking can impose a significant slowdown on your machine.

  4. Juisarian says:

    What we need is some kind of free DNS service that blocks all the ad sites. I spent 10 seconds looking on Google
    but did not find such a thing. Maybe someone else knows if any exist.

  5. greg says:

    If you haven’t tried opera in a couple of years, you should be pleasantly surprised (built-in adblocking). Just take some time to customize it — it definitely suffers from a bit of feature bloat. Otherwise, it’s a very nice browser.

    Also, double check what you have installed for extensions in FF. Try reinstalling with a minimal set. Don’t enable the Adblock plus subscriptions. You might find a revitalized firefox if you do.

    As for me, I tend to keep several different browsers installed and updated. When I get sick of one, I use the other for a while. Kind of schizophrenic, but it works for me.

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