Why are browsers so slow?

As a user of Opera browser in the good ol’ days, I share Ilya Birman’s pain

But I am not talking about rendering and scripts. I am talking about everything else. Safari may take a second or two just to open a new blank tab on a 2014 iMac. And with ten or fifteen open tabs it eventually becomes sluggish as hell. Chrome is better, but not much so.

… and this too …

What would you do today if you opened a link and saw a long article which you don’t have time to read right now, but want to read later? You would save a link and close the tab. But when your browser is fast, you just don’t tend to close tabs which you haven’t dealt with. In Opera, I would let tabs stay open for months without having any impact on my machine’s performance.

Wait, but didn’t I restart my computer or the browser sometimes? Of course I did. Unfortunately, modern browsers are so stupid that they reload all the tabs when you restart them. Which takes ages if you have a hundred of tabs. Opera was sane: it did not reload a tab unless you asked for it. It just reopened everything from cache. Which took a couple of seconds.

In fact, maybe it’s a good time to try out Opera browser again.  After all, the two primary reasons I’ve switched from it were:

  • Open Source.  This was back in a day when I was a zealot.  (Yeah, if you think I’m one now, you should have seen me in my 20’s.)  Now  I am much more calm about the licensing.
  • Rendering issues.  That was back when Opera had its own rendering engine and couldn’t quite keep up with all the changes on the Web.  Since then, Opera has dumped its Presto rendering engine in favor of Webkit (the same engine that Google Chrome, Chromium and Safari browsers are using), and then dumped Webkit in favor of Blink, which is like … erm .. new Webkit (?) or something like that.

So maybe it’s good enough in rendering department and I can have my performance and tab management back.  As Ilya mentions, no other browser came close to the tab management of Opera back in a day.  I frequently have a 30+ tabs open, and its only because that’s as much as Chrome can handle on my laptop.

Update: Tried out the latest version of Opera now for about half an hour.  I suddenly remembered another reason for why I’ve switched – fonts.  Default fonts configuration is far from optimal.  For multilingual pages (English and Russian) is more than horrific.  Oh well, I guess, I’ll have to wait some more.

The state of browser affairs

First, a little joke to set the scene (forgive a rough translation from Russian)…

Lion, the king of all animals, was running some statistics over his animal kingdom.  He called all animals and made the speech.  “Dear all,” – he said, – “I am trying to figure out how to direct the educational program in the upcoming year.  For that I need some stats.  Those of you who are strong, please stand on my right.  Those of you who are smart, please stand on my left.  And let me count you…”

Strong animals – elephants, bulls, hippos, etc – all moved by the lion’s right paw.  The smart animals – beavers, rats, foxes, etc – grouped by lion’s left side.  When the dust settled, there was a one animal still running around blubbering something.  All attention turned towards the creature, and everyone saw the monkey.  It was running back and forward from one group to another and back again, thinking out oud: “strong to the right, smart to the left.. .strong to the right, smart to the left… and me? what about me?  Do I have to cut myself in half or what?” …

For the last few days, I feel a little bit like that monkey.  The thing is that I’m using two browsers right now, I can’t continue using two browsers, and I can’t pick one.  Those of you following me on Twitter might be somewhat aware of the situation.

I love Firefox.  I’ve been using it for years, and I don’t see it going anywhere.  It has plenty of functionality (especially through plugins and extensions) that no other browser has.  It does whatever I want it to do and then a little bit more.  But it’s so slow that I can’t stand it.  I have removed all extensions that I don’t use.  I have disabled all extensions that I use from time to time.  I read all optimizations tips on the web and tried a few thoughts of my own.  It helped, but not enough.  Nothing has solved the problem.  Scrolling is still slow.  Especially with a few tabs open.  Switching between tabs is slow. Opening a new tab is slow.  And these are things I do a few thousand times a day.  Even milliseconds count for this operations.  Firefox allows itself to spend almost full seconds.

On the other hand, I have Opera – a fantastically fast browser.  It even has a lot of features that make browsing the web so pleasant. Tabs, search bar, downloads management, history and bookmarks, fast dial, notes, and many more.  But.  Those aren’t enough.  Even with recently introduced widgets it still doesn’t cover the functionality that I need.  By far.  Not even 50%.  But it’s so fast that it almost makes me not care.  Almost.

Opera has practically no integration with social services – something that I work a lot with.  No comparison can be made with Firefox extensions for Twitter, Flickr, and del.icio.us here.  It has practically no integration with other, less social, online tools – specifically the Google pack of services (Gmail, Calendar, Reader, etc).  And it misses the most important area of my work – web development.  Source code formatting, highlighting, editing, analysis, testing, troubleshooting…

I am confident that the situation will improve and resolve itself pretty soon.  Firefox is getting a lot of momentum and already plenty of optimizations went into upcoming Firefox 3.  Opera is getting a lot of hype and user base on mobile devices.  People are starting to develop for it.

But I can’t wait…

Why blogs are better than mainstream news

Every day I read more and more blogs and less and less mainstream news. Why? Because mainstream news suck! Most of the mainstream news agencies carry the heavy burden of the printed press and a century of mass media from before the Internet.

Picture is a thousand words they say. Here is a graphical example for you. Cool Tech Zone – “A Division of iTech Media.” Blah blah blah. One of the recent news items is titled “Microsoft Buys Out Opera“. Catching, isn’t it? It is.

In 5 paragraphs of text to follow, they tell that Microsoft is closing a deal purchasing Opera Software. Google is mentioned and so on and so forth. Makes one read a lot, wonder, think, wonder, think, and read some more…

6th paragraph reads:

Update: Opera recently confirmed that Microsoft has not approached the browser maker and there is no active acquistion deal between the two companies currently.

In plain English? OK. “All you’ve just read above is bullcrap. Lies. We just made it up.” Yeah. They just wasted a whole bunch of your time. And they are not sorry. “Opera recently confirmed…” Confirmed? Confirmed what? They didn’t confirm anything. In fact, they contradicted. It should have read something like “Opera recently contradicted this whole article.”

I’m telling you – blogs rule…

P.S.: Slashdot post