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Bugs: Firefox

2020-05-19

Watching Jonathan Blow's talk Preventing the Collapse of Civilization today, it is bombastic but entertaining. He suggests (at the 22:50 mark) documenting all of the problems you run into using software and I thought that could be an interesting exercise to try.

More than anything this has proved to be a depressing exercise in just how complicated modern software is and I've only had the patience to document problems in a single program, Firefox. I ran into the following problems in the span of about 20 minutes and spent easily three times that trying to look further into it or narrow things down.

A Demonstration

Responsive design mode bricks the tab

Normally the key chord Alt-Cmd-m triggers Firefox's responsive design mode, for simulating small screen devices. I use this successfully in the video, but in the case that I've previously used the link-search shortcut 'some text, the tab is blanked and no longer loads. It seems to be hung in some half-loaded responsive mode, visible within the developer tools toggle for responsive design mode, which you see me clicking to no effect. The only solution appears to be closing the tab.

This has been reproducible for me only on Mac OS across versions 75-77. It does appear as though the link-search shortcut is contextual and only available outside of responsive design mode. I can't really figure why this would be the case, but I won't count it as a bug in and of itself.

Closed tabs are listed as open tabs

If you look at the address bar dropdown after I've closed the first tab there is an entry for idle.nprescott.com/... listed alongside switch to tab. The bug is, there are no open tabs to switch to and clicking the entry does nothing.

Quitting Firefox crashes Firefox

This one made me laugh. It felt a little perfect for the day it looks like I'm having. After recording the above video I turned off the screen recorder, keycastr, and quit Firefox only to be struck with the Mac OS spinning beach ball and an eventual crash report from Firefox. I dutifully submitted the crash report when prompted.

Firefox has logged me out of every single site

I should note, this one did not occur after the crash-on-quit bug so it is not easily explained away as a failed write or corrupted file. It is tough to narrow down the problem because each site implements authentication and sessions differently, but it is a little like my cookies have been purged. I've no idea why this would happen, but it has been happening pretty routinely in the last several weeks; if I had to guess I'd say it lines up with updates to Firefox (which unfortunately happen automatically).

Thoughts

Using any of the problematic features might well make me a "power user" which is asking for trouble in just about any piece of modern software. By all accounts Firefox usage is in decline and we're heading towards (or already in) a Chrome monoculture; I rather suspect Mozilla has larger problems than those I've described above. I'm not going to submit a bug report for the above issues because they occurred on a platform I'm actively disinterested in supporting (Mac OS). I've been increasingly disaffected with most things "web" and I don't really think things are quite so rosy as I once did.

I don't know that Blow is correct in his prediction of civilization's collapse, but it sure does seem like I have been conditioned into expecting software to be broken. I wasn't particularly surprised at any of the above because I'm so used to it. It is only in writing them down and investigating them that I'm struck by how absurd all of it starts to feel.

On a more positive note, I spent some time reconfiguring an RSS reader and have thus been spending less time in the browser.