Friday, December 4, 2015

So long Firefox...

In the past half year I've largely stopped using Firefox. Day to day I've moved my browsing to Chrome with all the devices I use. Even on my iPad Pro -- the A9X SoC inside the iPad Pro is so powerful that I don't care if Safari is in fact faster, I'd rather be able to view recent browsing on my other devices and recall stored passwords versus imperceptible differences in JavaScript performance. 

My abandoning Firefox is fairly recent compared to many former Firefox users that I've known who by their technical nature emigrated to Chrome long ago. So why the delay? For the loooooongest time, I didn't see much difference between Firefox or Chome on my home PC. Unlike many people who are automatically drawn to laptops, I've never been much of a laptop person. For accessing information impromptu, I greatly prefer the portability of a high end smart phone .

I also happen to be both a videophile and an audiophile.

On my Windows 10 system I have both a 34" display with a cinematic (21:9) aspect ratio and a 27" 4K display. Both have outstanding color accuracy and use In Plane Switching (IPS) technology to provide great viewing angles and a wider color gamut. On my Mac, I use a 27" Apple Cinema Display. The small displays of laptops provide a very cramped work space compared to what I'm used to.

Then there's audio, audio on most PCs is extremely low end. The biggest player in the space is Realtek whose silicon powers audio on PCs. They sell each audio chip for less than the cost of a Starbucks Espresso. For some juxtaposition, the Soundblaster ZxR audio card inside my PC cost $250 -- it provides high end DACs for both the front and rear channels. Did you catch that part about the front & rear channels? Yep, I have a reference Klipsch 5.1 speaker system attached to my PC. 

What does this have to do with Firefox? Bear with me... 

I have a very high end PC, no doubt I've made it abundantly clear by now. Over the last few years, using Firefox on my home PC, I rarely, if ever, noticed a difference in Firefox's performance versus Chrome.

The problem started with my work PCs, which as you can imagine are nowhere as 'leet' as my home system. When I started my last job, I ran Firefox on a lower end desktop since I spent lots of time with emails and SSHing into systems were the work load wasn't immediately in front of me but in the cloud. I noticed Firefox was not its snappy self, at least compared to what I was used to at home, but I always chalked it up to the hardware sitting on my desk. 

Then one of the developers left so I took over his Core i7 tower with 16 gigs of RAM -- plenty of CPU & memory to run anything I needed. And yet... I noticed Firefox performance was still sluggish and not up to par with what I was used to at home. I had inherited the box from a developer who had installed all kinds of software on it. Who knew what was going on under the hood, right? I wasn't inclined to rebuild it from scratch so I figured something deep down might explain Firefox being sluggish.

The first nail in the coffin (moving away from Firefox) was when the hard drive on this Core i7 died after about a year of usage. I rebuilt the system with a clean install of Windows 7 and still, Firefox was sluggish. I noticed the integrated GPU was pretty low end, Intel's HD2000, so I brought in a dedicated nVidia video card I had at home that I no longer used and yet... Firefox was still sluggish.

I recollected how someone I knew was talking about how Chrome was always snappier, regardless of the hardware and one of the ZDNet bloggers always complained of Firefox's performance. Maybe they were right? Certainly my own experiences on systems that weren't my home PC were bearing this out. 

The final nail (accelerated my leaving Firefox) was when Google released 64-bit Chrome for Windows. I might mention that 64-bit Chrome is not the default Chrome download but having a 64-bit browser making various kinds of exploits much harder to pull off:


Address space layout randomization (ASLR) makes this type of attack extremely unlikely to succeed on 64-bit machines as the memory locations of functions are random.

And in lieu of what's going on these days, that's a good thing:

I wrote on the latter general topic some years ago: