More Firefox feature assassination coming up

So in keeping with the direction the devs at Mozilla have been steering the Firefox browser, plans include more feature assassination (of course), this time in the form of obfuscating useful information — arguably the most important information for users of a web browser — in the address bar.

Why would anybody actually WANT this?

I am, of course, talking about this.

Mozilla’s most recent nightly releases of Firefox (version 7) do not show the common URL protocol prefix http:// anymore and automatically hides trailing single slashes in a URL. Google canceled the prefix in a rather controversial move more than one year ago with the release of Chrome 5.

Because in a time when phishing is running rampant, and in a time when Firefox devs are already under constant criticism for just following the crowd with respect to browser design (up to and including feature assassination), this is a really great idea.

Sure. Let’s make it harder for users to see where they’re actually surfing. Let’s make it easier for phishers and scam sites out there by doing their job for them in concealing what is probably the most critically important part of the URL address system.

Following the crowd

And with Google’s Chrome browser chipping away at Firefox’s market share, is simply copying them move-for-move — including the stupid ones — really the best strategy to remain competitive in the never-ending browser wars?

I’ve talked about feature assassination here before, mostly because it really gets me worked up. There’s little I hate more than installing the latest-and-greatest version of an application I love, only to discover that the developers have been working diligently at removing things that I find useful about it.

It’s an ongoing trend that’s rampant these days, and nowhere do we see this more brutally exercised lately than in web browsers.

Firefox has always been a bit feature-lite in my opinion as a longtime Opera user. However, by installing a few add-ons, I used to be able to get Firefox’s limited functionality up to a level closer to what I’m used to in Opera, and I’d only be sacrificing performance (a bit) and startup time (admittedly more than I’d prefer) to do this.

But with each release, the Firefox team seems dedicated to increasing the number of add-ons I need to install.

And most of this just seems to be in their insistence on copying design flaws from other browsers.

They’re going out of their way to do this with Chrome squarely in their sights, even with things that make absolutely no sense. Tabs on top. Eliminating the status bar. And now intentionally hiding the most important part of the URL in the address bar.

Sure, in Firefox 4 we saw the addition of tab groups, and while it’s a new bit of functionality that nobody else is doing, and one that I like, it’s not exactly a killer feature. I doubt most Firefox users are even aware of it, much less are drawn to the browser because of it.

Benefit of the doubt?

With what I consider the most controversial instance of Mozilla developers just lazily copying other browsers’ development decisions, the tabs on top idiocy is at least redeemed by the fact that it’s easily fixed by going to the Tools menu and then the Toolbars submenu and simply unchecking “Tabs on top”. Thankfully.

But the elimination of the status bar in Firefox 4 necessitated the installation of an add-on to fix this, so I’m on the fence about whether or not they’ll do this with the option to disable this stupid URL-hiding behavior natively.

If not, I suppose that will be just one more add-on that I’ll need to install in order to make Firefox behave sanely.

And I’m wondering how many more before I reach my limit and just say “enough is enough”… how long before the Firefox browser is just a collection of add-ons and no useful native functionality to speak of?

6 thoughts on “More Firefox feature assassination coming up

  1. IIRC Opera also dropped the http:// and trailing / parts plus https:// (unlike Chrome/ Chromium.) What’s more, I’m not sure I understand your argument that this approach makes it easier for phishing attacks. Indeed I think that highlighting the core URL actually makes it easier to spot such attacks. Similarly, these browsers inform the user if the web site is secure.

    • Yep, Opera did the same thing. I’ve stopped using Opera for other reasons, but I was aware of that. Chrome/Chromium might not obscure the “https://”, but since they hide “http://” it’s confusing to users.

      Indeed I think that highlighting the core URL actually makes it easier to spot such attacks. Similarly, these browsers inform the user if the web site is secure.

      Sure. If you 100% trust the browser’s phishing database. Like Google, Mozilla keeps a phishing database and checks addresses against it, but it’s not always an instantaneous thing (being updated with bad URLs).

      So all someone has to do is make a few hundred bogus copies of an online banking site and they’ll have ample opportunity to lure people to it and harvest credentials without having to worry about people noticing that it’s an http:// in front of the address, before the phishing databases get updated.

      I just don’t see this ending well.

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  3. just lazily copying….? These dev guys aren’t fools, at least not in the usual sense of the word. Simply replace the word “security” with “malignant unobtrusive market research and manipulation”. This will also explain the continuous stream of upgrades leading to all those lovely remunerative hit rates on complying therewith. After all where would they be if everybody could just simply switch off all their hard work. Softly, softly, catchee monkey!

    See jv16, mailwasher, ad infinitum, from something that works (which you shouldn’t mess with) to the most amazing (no better) bloatware imaginable. Windows 7 even needs a new computer for exactly the same job. Mozilla, from community development to hard-nosed Wall Street aspirant with bail-out potential; seems to be the way to go. ff3.0 and tb2 are the end of the road.!!

  4. I am glad to see someone arguing this point. Removing the scheme from the address is crazy. Oddly, I’ve seen a lot more people take the opposite position, arguing that the scheme portion is archaic, useless, and just ‘ugly’. The first two make no real sense to me and the last is just weird. The white and yellow lines on the highway are kind of ugly too… but they aren’t decoration.

    Thanks for the post.

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