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Mozilla 1.0 Not Ready for Prime Time -- Close but No Cigar and No Brass Ring!

A Quick Look at Some Mozilla 1.0 Browser-Suite Annoyances, Bugs, And Issues

Mike Angelo -- 4 June 2002 (c)

Article Index

As we go to press, AOL-Netscape's Mozilla division is putting the final wraps on Mozilla 1.0 [released 5 June 002]. We the took current Windows and Linux Mozilla 1.0 final test builds for a quick spin as part of our on-going evaluation of the Mozilla browser-suite software.

Essentially, the Mozilla browser suite includes

(1) the browser or navigator,

(2) an e-mail and news client,

(3) a Web page authoring tool,

(4) and an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) client.

The cross-platform (XP) Mozilla browser-suite software is designed to run on several operating system platforms including, inter alia, the BSD, Linux, Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, OS/2, Sun, and several UNIX platforms. Source code is available if you want to custom compile your own Mozilla builds

Among the most notable features of the Mozilla browser-suite are its (a) customizable skins or themes, (b) customizable sidebar panel, (c) browser-window tabs (Tabbed Browsing), (d) Gecko, a nice rendering/layout engine, and (e) Web-page display standards compliance. We examine the Mozilla 1.0 browser-suite features, check Mozilla 1.0's perfomance, and take a closer look at its component modules elsewhere. In this article we focus on some Mozilla 1.0 annoyances and bugs issues.

Bug Counts Reflect the Overall Product Quality

The number of bugs listed in Bugzilla, the Mozilla project bug-tracking database, continues to increase dramatically. However, some Mozilla developers attempt to trivialize the Mozilla software bug problems, insisting the bug count numbers are misleading abstractions and most of these bug reports amount to nothing more than spelling errors and requests for enhancements.

Bug counts are far from abstractions. Rather, bug counts comprise a summary statistic set that let's one know how many bugs and other issues have been reported to the Mozilla developers and listed in Bugzilla, the Mozilla software bug-tracking and issues-tracking database.

The bug counts are very real and they provide an overall picture of Mozilla software quality and issues. Moreover, comparing or charting bug counts across the Mozilla project lifespan, or a sub-set of that lifespan, provides a general indication or picture of the Mozilla software quality and quality control.

Unfortunately, over time open/un-fixed Mozilla bug counts have been increasing dramatically rather than decreasing. (Please see Figure 11, on page 3.) One of the more outrageous excuses some people in the Mozilla community make for this dramatic increase in the number of reported and yet open, un-fixed bugs is that more people are using Mozilla these days -- these bugs have been in the Mozilla code all along -- the bugs are just now being discovered because more people are using Mozilla now -- blah, blah, blah.

Sure, a few of the newly reported bugs might have been in the Mozilla code all along and just now are being encountered and reported. However, there are several hundred developers checking code into the Mozilla software CVS tree. Some of the check-ins are new code and new features. Other check-ins are patches to fix bugs and broken code. It is much more likely that dramatic increases in reported, open, un-fixed bugs listed in the Bugzilla bug-tracking database are due to bad code rather than to more users.

Whether the bugs were in the code all along is not the important issue, however. The important issue is that there are lots of bugs in Mozilla. Although developers might be concerned when and how bugs got into the code-base, Mozilla users likely could care less -- but they do care about bugs and issues impacting on their use of the product. Moreover, until a very good-sized chunk of these bugs and issues is resolved correctly, the Mozilla browser-suite will continue to lack the polish and quality of a first class software product.

Impact of Bugs on the User Experience

It is the actual user-experience with Mozilla 1.0 that will determine its success or failure rather than bug-count numbers or claims by Mozilla developers that Mozilla's bugs are trivial and nothing to remark about. Moreover, users could care less whether a Mozilla annoyance is listed in Bugzilla as a request for enhancement (usually a missing feature or function) or something that does not work correctly (a bug in the narrow sense of the word). Users are concerned with how these annoyances affect their user experiences with Mozilla software -- not with bug triaging technicalities.

So just what is the impact of even just a few of the more than 24,000 open Mozilla-software bugs and issues listed in the Bugzilla database? This question is examined in part in the next two sections. There, we take a closer look at just a few of the many Mozilla annoyances and their impact on our user experience.

The Netscape 7.0 Preview Release 1 (NS 7.1-PR1) Web browser suite is based on early Mozilla 1.0 code. In effect, the Mozilla browser-suite is an Open Source version of the proprietary Netscape browser-suite or perhaps vice versa. So, much of the discussion of Mozilla 1.0 bugs, annoyances, and issues might apply to Netscape 7.0-PR1 too. However, we will take a closer look at Netscape 7.0-PR1 bugs, annoyances, and issues elsewhere.

The four major Linux distributions have included pre-1.0 Mozilla browser-suite milestone editions in their distributions for some time. Some, such as Red Hat Linux, have pretty much replaced Netscape with the Mozilla browser-suite as the default Web browser in their Linux distributions. However, if you are a Linux user and want to checkout Mozilla 1.0 for yourself you will have to update the Mozilla version that came with your Linux distribution to Mozilla 1.0.

If you are a Windows user, Mozilla did not come with Windows and you will have to download Mozilla 1.0 if you want to give it a try. Additionally, as mentioned earlier the Mozilla browser-suite software is cross-platform (XP) and is available, via free downloading, for most other operating systems too.

Some Mozilla Problems

Before getting into today's discussion of Mozilla 1.0 annoyances, bugs, and issues, it is important to note there are other Mozilla 1.0 problems that are beyond the scope of today's discussion and are discussed in a companion article to this one (coming soon but at a later time).

A few of these other issues discussed elsewhere include important missing features such as the lack of an included spell-checker for the e-mail, news, and composer modules of the Mozilla 1.0 browser suite and performance issues such as memory hogging, memory leaking, system crashes, application lock-ups, and sluggish speed on slower machines.

Two desktop computers were used in the Mozilla 1.0 evaluation that serves as the bases for today's discussion of Mozilla 1.0 annoyances, bugs and issues. One machine has a 1-GHz Pentium III on a PowerLeap motherboard with 512-MB of hard RAM running Windows 98 SE. The other box has a 300-MHz AMD K6 on an Amptron motherboard with 128-MB RAM. Mozilla 1.0 tests were run on this second box in both Windows 98 SE and Red Hat Linux 7.2 boots.

Both machines feed display output to a Gateway EV910 19" monitor via a Belkin 4-port KVM switch. The Poweleap machine is equipped with a 100-GB Maxtor ATA 100 hard drive and the AMD-based machine is equipped with a 40-GB Maxtor Ultra DMA 66 hard drive.

The Mozilla test builds used for today's informal evaluations are the (31-May-2002 19:45 10.5M) and mozilla-i686-pc-linux-gnu.tar.gz (29-May-2002 22:17 12.0M) builds from the /mozilla/nightly/latest-1.0 directory on the Mozilla FTP server. At press time these still are the most recent editions of the specified builds.

The bugs, annoyances, and issues discussed here were first encountered during everyday use of Mozilla software and our regular and continuous testing of the Mozilla browser suite -- or came to our attention through reader feedback in the #Mozilla, #ChatZilla and #Netscape channels of the EFNet IRC (Internet Relay Chat) network. They were retested on the above listed equipment running the above listed Mozilla 1.0 test builds in order to verify their current status in Mozilla 1.0.

The Bugzilla database shows that Mozilla 1.0 is very buggy, including more than 500 crash bugs and more than 12,000 targeted (screened) open (not fixed), bugs. Add the un-screened bug count to that and there are more than 24,000 new, assigned, and re-opened bugs listed in the Mozilla Project's bug-tracking database, Bugzilla.

Earlier today, there were 12,541 targeted new, assigned, and reopened Mozilla bugs and 24,491 new, assigned, and reopened bugs listed in Mozilla's Bugzilla bug-tracking database.

With that many reported, confirmed, open bugs in Mozilla, if you find something that does not work correctly or sensibly, or is annoying, when you are using Mozilla, chances are it is not something you are doing wrong or do not understand. Chances are it is just another Mozilla 1.0 annoyance, bug, or issue that has smacked you in the face.

You can check the Bugzilla database and the Mozilla Release Notes to see if any problems you encounter when using Mozilla are known issues. If any problems you encounter when using Mozilla are not already known issues, you can report the problems (bugs) to the Mozilla developers by submitting Bug Reports via Bugzilla.

It's clearly beyond the scope and attention span of this article to look at all the more than 24,000 annoyances, bugs, and issues that come with Mozilla 1.0. So, here are just a few of the more than 24,000 annoyance, bug, and issue stories in the LizardCity's naked, Silicon-Jungle. We will be taking a closer look at more of Mozilla 1.0's bugs, problems, and issues in upcoming articles.

Looking at Some Annoyances, Bugs, And Issues

  • Icons and/or Text on Toolbar

In Netscape 4.x, you can chose whether you want text plus icons, just text, or just icons on the toolbar. If you happen to have a copy of Netscape 4.x laying around you can see that by clicking Edit > Preferences > Appearance. Or, if you like you can download Netscape 4.79 and check that. Please see Figure 1.

Mozilla 1.0 does not let you chose whether you want text plus icons, just text, or just icons on the toolbar that easily. It should! Please see Figure 2.

Figure 1. Netscape 4.5 Appearance Preference panel showing the text plus icons, just text, or just icons on the toolbar setting options in the lower right area of the panel. Figure 2. Mozilla 1.0 Appearance Preference panel. There are NO text plus icons, just text, or just icons on the toolbar setting options here.

Of course the Mozilla 1.0 user interface (UI) is skinnable. So, you could do some Mozilla-skinning to customize your Mozilla toolbar as you like it. However, one should not have to hack the Mozilla UI in order to choose whether text plus icons, just text, or just icons are displayed on the toolbar. In this case Mozilla 1.0 moves a step backward from its predecessor, Netscape 4.x.

  • E-Mail

When using Mozilla e-mail, you must download some mail in certain circumstances before Mozilla can send your mail. If you do not do that, Mozilla tells you that you have specified an illegal address for a recipient of your message.

There are two annoyances with that. Perhaps the most important is that Mozilla does not tell you the truth about why it is not sending your mail. If you do not know about this bug, you could spend lots of time trying to figure out what is wrong with the email address(es) of the specified recipient(s). You might never stumble on to the real reason your e-mail is not being sent.

Second, you ought to be able to send e-mail without having to first download e-mail.

Perhaps the biggest Mozilla 1.0 e-mail annoyance is that the e-mail editor does not come with a spell-checker. There are third-party spell-checkers. However, you have to hunt them down and install them after you install Mozilla -- annoying.

Incidentally, according to the Mozilla 1.0 in-program help, there is a spell-checker with the e-mail editor (composer). The Mozilla 1.0 in program help indicates there is supposed to be a Spell button on the e-mail composer tool bar -- there is none, however. And as far we know, there is no spell-checker included with the Mozilla 1.0 package.

  • Saving WebPages

From time to time people save Web pages for future use. The Mozilla 1.0 browser does have a Save Page As feature. Please see Figure 3.

Figure 3. Mozilla 1.0 File menu showing the Save Page As and Open File options.
However, rather than save the (cached) page that you see in your browser window when you hit the Save Page As button in the File dropdown menu, Mozilla goes to the URL and re-downloads the page files that Mozilla is saving.

There are at least two problems with this. One problem is that it takes longer to re-download the page to save it than it does to copy the files from the browser disk-cache on your hard drive to the location on your hard drive where you are saving the page.

More importantly, however, if the content of the page you want to save has changed from the time you downloaded the page to the time you save the page, you are not saving exactly what you want to save. Depending upon what is on the page that you want to save, Mozilla could be cheating you out of saving what you want to save. That is very annoying.

Perhaps even more disastrous is the situation in which the Web page that caught your interest is removed from the Web server in between the time you downloaded the page and the time you hit the Save Page As button. If you are using the Mozilla 1.0 browser, you lose!

Incidentally, Microsoft Internet Explorer does this right. It saves the cached page files rather than reloading them. This issue is one of the many reasons we do not recommend switching from Internet Explorer to Mozilla-based browsers.

Article Index

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