John C. Dvorak asks what’s wrong with Firefox, and suggests forking as a possible solution.
It sounds to me like one or more plugins he’s running is causing problems. I run Firefox on Vista (unfortunately), with as few plugins as possible, and I don’t have the issues he describes. Memory usage does spiral out of control if I go long enough between restarting the browser, but restarting the browser once a week keeps it tolerable.
Dvorak also asks why Flash updates itself so frequently. It’s mainly because of security updates. It’s a pain, but necessary, seeing as Flash is one of the most effective attack vectors into a modern computer. If you can tolerate it, running Flashblock helps; then Flash content doesn’t play unless you specifically click on its play button.
But there are two things on the horizon in the near future that will help Dvorak’s problem.
Mozilla’s developers have finally figured out how to tame memory leaks from add-ons. Developer Kyle Huey reported a drop of about 70% under some conditions. Of course we’ve thought before that this problem was fixed. Maybe this time it is. These newly discovered fixes will be present in Firefox 15, due for release this fall.
And Adobe is sandboxing Flash. As Tom Gatermann said when he pointed this out to me, this is something they should have done 10 years ago. Quarantining Flash in its own little leper colony will make it much harder to infect the browser or the underlying operating system.
It seems that Firefox has lost its mojo recently, and taking radical measures like the rapid-release cycle hasn’t helped. This is more likely to be the help the browser needs. Well, this and 64-bit support on Windows.
I don’t think forking is the answer. Like Dvorak observes, all of the browsers are in the doldrums right now, though for different reasons. Fixing the plugins problem seems like a better answer to me.