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posted by martyb on Friday September 22 2017, @06:59PM   Printer-friendly
from the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go-now? dept.

I knew this day would eventually come. We had been warned that Firefox 57 would force some significant changes on us users, including the removal of support for extensions that did not conform to the WebExtensions model, along with the introduction of the new Photon user interface appearance.

Although I have always only wanted to run the stable releases, long ago I had been forced to run the Developer Edition of Firefox just so I could easily use some extensions I had written on my own. Now Firefox was showing me that an update to Firefox 57.0b1 was available. Should I do it? Should I install this update? I debated with myself for several minutes. But in the end I knew I would have no choice. I would at some point have to update to Firefox 57 if I wanted to keep receiving security fixes and other important updates. So I did it. I upgraded to Firefox Developer Edition 57.0b1.

The update itself was uneventful. It installed as past updates have, and I restarted my browser to start using the new version. The first thing I noticed are the user interface changes. My initial reaction was that I had accidentally started my Vivaldi browser installation instead of my Firefox Developer Edition installation. A quick check of the About dialog did confirm that I was in fact using Firefox, and not Vivaldi.

There's not much to say about the Photon user interface. While Australis-era Firefox looked almost identical to Chrome to me, Photon-era Firefox looks like Vivaldi to me. I couldn't see any improvements, however. The menu shown after clicking the three line toolbar button may have had its appearance changed to be more like a traditional menu, but it is still muddled and much too busy to be useful. I didn't notice any increase in the responsiveness of the user interface. It still feels to me like it's slower than that of Chrome's user interface.

This would be a good time to talk about the overall performance of the browser. I can't perceive any improvement. I don't think it's worse than it was, but I also don't think that it's any better. From what I can see, pages aren't loading any faster. Changing between tabs doesn't feel any faster to me. Scrolling through loaded pages isn't any smoother. Chrome still feels snappier. If there were improvements on the performance front, I'm not seeing them.

Now it's time to talk about extensions. Although I was expecting breakage, it's still a painful feeling to see many of your favorite extensions labeled as "legacy" and no longer working. While a small number of my installed extensions already supported Firefox 57, there were others where I had to visit the developers' websites and download special dev or pre-release versions. In other cases I wasn't so lucky. Sometimes the developers had given up on supporting Firefox 57, and openly acknowledged that they wouldn't be making any further updates to the extensions. I had to find alternatives. Sometimes there were alternatives, but in at least one of the cases the alternative was much less capable than the extension I had been using. I spent well over an hour just trying to get the third-party extensions I use back to a state similar to how they had been when I'd been using Firefox 56.

Then there are my own personal extensions. I had written these over a number of years, and had been using them with Firefox for quite some time. But now they were deemed "legacy" and they no longer could be used now that I was running Firefox 57. I started to read up about what it would take to convert them to be WebExtensions compatible, and I soon learned that it would not be a trivial task. I will need to set aside a sizable chunk of time to get these ported over.

I've been using Firefox for a long time. I've experienced its highs, and I've experienced its many lows. Of these lows, I think that Firefox 57 is perhaps the lowest of them yet. Many of the extensions I have used for years no longer work. I will need to put in much time and effort to convert extensions I had written for my own personal use. I will need to learn to use its new user interface. But worst of all, I do not see any improvements or benefits. I don't think it performs any better now than it did in the past.

I feel particularly sorry for the Firefox users who aren't as technical as I'm lucky to be. They might not fully understand the implications of Firefox 57 when it comes time for them to eventually upgrade. They likely won't be able to deal with the many broken extensions. They too will need to learn a new user interface that doesn't really provide anything in the way of improvement. As bad as I found the experience of upgrading to Firefox 57 to be, I fear that these average users without a technical background will find it even more painful.

I'm now in a bind. I don't want to use one of the pre-57 ESR releases of Firefox, because I'll eventually end up in the same position that I am in today. I will have to rewrite my extensions either now or later. But since doing that will likely make them compatible with Chrome, I must ask myself, is it still worth using Firefox? I ponder: if my extensions will work with both Firefox and Chrome, but I find Chrome to perform much better, why not just use Chrome instead? That may very well be what I do. While some say that Firefox offers more privacy, I am doubtful about this. It has a long and complex privacy policy that talks of sending various data here and there.

I never really seriously considered moving away from Firefox in the past, even as my user experience got worse and worse over time. But I think the time to leave Firefox permanently has finally arrived. Firefox 57 takes away the few remaining advantages that Firefox had for me, namely the ability to run the extensions I had already written for myself.

I think that I should be feeling more sorrow and regret about finally leaving Firefox behind. But I don't feel any of that. In fact, I feel a sense of optimism that I haven't felt in a long time. Chrome, or more likely Chromium, will probably bring me a faster browsing experience than I've become accustomed to while using Firefox. I will have to rework my extensions, but at least they will then work with a better browser platform. They may even work with other browsers like Vivaldi and Brave, as well.

So while Firefox 57 has so far been one of the worst web browser user experiences for me yet, in some ways it may also be the best: it finally gives me a reason to move away from Firefox to an ecosystem that offers me so much more than what Firefox did. It may very well be putting me in a better position than I would have been in had I not tried Firefox 57 and been so disappointed with it.

Should you update to Firefox 57 as soon as it become available to you? If I were you, I would be cautious. While it's important to get the latest fixes to try and achieve a safe browsing experience, please be aware of the potential to break extensions, some of which there may be no equivalent WebExtensions compatible replacements for. Firefox 57 does include changes that could cause you a lot of problems. My advice would be to prepare before the upgrade, and be ready for your browsing experience to suffer. If you do choose to upgrade to Firefox 57, I sincerely hope that your upgrade goes better than mine has gone.

Original Submission