Is Google Burying Firefox With User Agent Strings?

firefoxchromekiller

What’s The Story?

I’ve been using Google Chrome for Linux since it was first made available.  I use Gmail, Google Docs (now Drive), Google Plus, Google Adsense, Google Analytics, Google Music, and many more.  I am the original owner of an original CR-48 Chromebook, having received mine way back in Dec. 2010.  I promote Google services at work and have worked hard to point my business’ compass towards their entire suite of offerings.  I use a Samsung Nexus S with an official build of Android 4.04 and I’m only interested in official devices moving forward.

At the same time, I have been gently treading a fine line between complete faith and trust in Google and fear of the Orwellian future they are capable of realizing for us all.

What did you find?

I recently switched from Kubuntu 12.04 to Ubuntu 12.04 for production.  I had planned on doing so as soon as The Gimp 2.8 was released.  Well, it’s here and I’m happy.  After freshly installing 12.04 4 days ago, I decided that I would try to use Firefox for a change and see what it has to offer.  I haven’t used it actively since the early 3.x era and I was sure that I’d find something to like about it.  Things have been working out great when I’m accessing a non-Google page.  Very early on, I started seeing a lot of this…

The connection was reset.  The connection to the server was reset while the page was loading.

OK, let’s refresh the page.  I would get this message an average of 3 to 4 times before my Gmail would load.  If I wasn’t seeing that error, I was getting just a plain white screen.  Firefox seemed pretty confident that there was nothing to load yet there was just a white void for me to stare into.  If it wasn’t that, it was this…

It wasn’t long until I started to see the trend.  I never had any errors loading Slashdot or OMG Ubuntu.  Hacker News, Reddit and all the other sites that I frequent all loaded fine, %100 of the time.  Of course Google Plus, Adsense, Analytics and Google Drive all gave me “Connection Reset”.  So today, while running errands, a really nasty notion came to me.  Is Google using user agent strings to create a poor experience in Firefox?

I decided to test this theory.

Let’s test it

First, I installed Google Chrome.  Here is my user agent string.

Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/535.19 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/18.0.1025.168 Safari/535.19

I installed the User-Agent-Switcher add-on for Firefox.  Then I manually added the string to the add-on and activated it.  I wanted to be certain the the strong was really reporting, so I pointed Firefox at whatsmyuseragent.com.  Yep, look’s like it works.


Dean Howell

Dean Howell has over a decade of experience with Linux and nearly 2 decades of experience with computers in general. Currently, Dean is Editor-in-chief of The Powerbase and also works for one of the world's largest providers of Linux-based NVRs.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/adeekshith Deekshith Allamaneni

    Stop using the evil CHROME. I am on Firefox Nightly. I firefox is again evolving to be the top browser. It is as fast as chrome and with much much more customization and developer tools. Although I do not recommend you to use Nightly, But for I can only say that it is always better for us and the web to use open-source browsers like Firefox.

    Few people think Chrome is open-source, but it is not. It is based on chromium which is open-source but it is’nt open-source.

    • Dror Harari

      Dean, please kill the troll….

      • lordpenguin

        I’ve neutralized the troll. We do not tolerate racism or belligerent stupidity here.

    • pbm

      So don’t use Chrome or Firefox, use Chromium (this is what I do) ;P

  • Tom Everitt

    This sounds bad, if true. However, I’m using Firefox/Iceweasel and Google services a lot, and can’t say I’ve noticed the mentioned error.

    Sure enough, they try to get me to switch to Chrome in other ways; for example by only letting me view google docs offline in Chrome, but that’s less creepy (but not good).

    Even so, I’ve never been comfortable with giving them (Google) control over my entire web eco-system, so I’m sticking with Firefox, despite Google trying to entice me to do otherwise :)

  • Jason Mitcheson

    The message you get from AdSense is a generic message from the Google Web Toolkit bootstrap script – the script that loads all GWT applications.

    Check out the last method in this class http://code.google.com/p/google-web-toolkit/source/browse/trunk/user/src/com/google/gwt/useragent/client/UserAgentAsserter.java?spec=svn10943&r=10943

    GWT compiles an optimised version for different browsers, and you’re confusing it by telling it lies with your user agent switcher :)

  • Silver Top

    I have noticed this problem for the past couple weeks. About the same time as I replaced my router and thinking that might have caused the problem.

    I do NOT use Google Chrome, firstly as I really dislike the interface, and it is getting too annoying Google trying to shove it down my throat. For those reasons, I will NEVER use Chrome. Yes, I use Gmail and Google search, but that is by MY choice, not theirs.

  • paul4id

    As an open source enthusiast you should not be slavishly using Google products in the way you do. For example, having a policy where you will only buy a Nexus Android device is simply rewarding Google for using a non-open development model for Android. By buying a non-Nexus device from one of Google’s less preferred partners you are encouraging a more open Android into the future.

    The same goes for Firefox vs. Chrome – you shouldn’t even be considering Chrome! Similar to your switch from KDE to Ubuntu – WTF???????

    • http://www.digifail.com/ Tom Nardi

      “For example, having a policy where you will only buy a Nexus Android device is simply rewarding Google for using a non-open development model for Android. By buying a non-Nexus device from one of Google’s less preferred partners you are encouraging a more open Android into the future.”

      I can’t make any sense of what you are trying to say here. Care to explain?

  • m_goku

    I use chromium, and I got a lot of those error message lately. So I try Firefox, and got the same problem. So, I think neither the browser nor user agent are the problem.

  • Paul Wujek

    I use Firefox and/or Chromium on Ubuntu 12.04 and have never seen the errors you’re getting.

    I use Google search, gmail, and Google Docs.

    Something in your environment/configuration is to blame.

  • Dror Harari

    You may be running into a compatibility issue with the new SPDY that Firefox just added and the Google servers are almost the only servers that support it. It may explain the strange effect. Google has no reason to target Firefox – they are Firefox’s main source of revenue and they work together on many projects. Those seeing evil should probably clear some dirt from their glasses…

    • ー ー

      SPDY is on for Fx13, not Fx12:

      https://wiki.mozilla.org/Platform/Features/SPDY

      Although, I’m personally not running into any problems with it set to on while running Fx Nightly. Which is what I’ve been using for over a year now.

      • Xorlev

        SPDY is in Firefox 12, just not turned on by default.

  • Dror Harari

    You may be running into a compatibility issue with the new SPDY that Firefox just added and the Google servers are almost the only servers that support it. It may explain the strange effect. Google has no reason to target Firefox – they are Firefox’s main source of revenue and they work together on many projects. Those seeing evil should probably clear some dirt from their glasses…

  • Julien

    Same here under Ubuntu 12.04 from an IPv6 network (maybe it can help ?), lots of errors on the first request of my G.Apps mailbox.
    Now on W7, no more errors.

  • dvhh

    My guess would probably on how google is enabling the SPDY protocol based on user agent sniffing and have not yet enabled it for firefox (or use a buggy one for firefox). I would be curious to see the test on other third party browsers (IE, Safari, Opera, lynx, links …..).

  • http://twitter.com/arculeo Adrien Arculeo

    Google products are not using HTTP with Chrome but SPDY, Their own protocol, More original that GTTP right? It is is among proposed protocols to make HTTP 2.0 (see IETF)

    The only other (mainstream) browser that uses SPDY is Firefox.

    It seems, it does it in some wrong way.

    NB : I use Ubuntu 12.04 too and I just launched Firefox to test what you said. I have no issue and I can’t reproduce your claim (Connecting from France)

  • http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ Matt Cutts

    I’ve been using Ubuntu for years with both Chrome and Firefox and I’ve never seen issues with Firefox getting higher connection resets. I’m happy to ask people at Google to dig into this report, but I have to say this sounds completely off base to me. Google wants our website and services to work very well with with Firefox. Are you seeing this issue only with Ubuntu 12.04?

    • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

      Matt, yes I’ve only seen the issue with 12.04. I have a virtual machine running Windows XP, so I might try to reproduce it there.

      We would be delighted to hear what Google has to say in regards to this, and we would also be happy to redact any outrageous claims. What this article represents is merely my observation, which has gotten a lot of attention.

      Thank you Matt!

  • Ian Fette

    What version of Firefox are you using? Firefox is implementing support for SPDY, which could potentially account for networking issues connecting to Google but not other sites if there’s bugs in that particular version of Firefox (as Google is one of very few sites currently using SPDY). AFAIK SPDY is enabled in FF13 and above. Not sure what version you’re using.

  • Ian Fette

    Also, if you can reproduce, any chance you can open a bug (bugs.chromium.org/new) and attach a wireshark trace?

  • Ian Fette

    Also, if you can reproduce, any chance you can open a bug (bugs.chromium.org/new) and attach a wireshark trace?

  • Albinard

    Here’s an odd one for you: I recently installed Xubuntu 12.04 in which Firefox is the default. I added Chromium, tried both on your site, and got the Connection Reset error both times. Didn’t get it with any other site. I’m not making this up to troll or anything – really happened exactly that way!

  • ZoubIWah

    I’ve never had the poster’s issues, however, I did find wierd issues with Google maps. (note: i use classic mode, not webgl mode)

    I found out its pretty slow in Firefox, specially in satellite mode. I tried in Chrome and it was smooth as butter.

    I wondered for a while and decided to do what he did back then, so switched Firefox’s user agent to Chrome.
    Not everything worked but it was butter smooth. Switched to FF 4 UA.. everything worked and still butter smooth. Anything above, it lags just a little.

    Doing the opposite doesn’t work, it breaks the site (yeah HTML5 is SO standard uh?)

    Now it might be Firefox and a function gmap uses in the new Firefox versions, or it might be Google, but that’s still odd. Google MUST have noticed if they started using a new function, and since the site functionality is identical, it’s still a bad move from Google.

  • Chris Pearce

    If you load up “about:config” in your URL bar, and search for the “network.http.spdy.enabled” pref, what is its value? If it’s “true”, then you could be running into bugs in the SPDY implementation. If you set it to “false”, does the problem go away? Checking/doing this will enable you eliminate that possibility at least.

  • http://www.flavors.me/warmth Daniel @warmth Delgado

    Try this: Pin Gmail to Firefox +12, open a ran manager and see how it exponentially increase the memory consumption of Firefox! Do the same thing on Chrome and all stays under control… Weird? Coincidence?

    • http://linux-blog.org devnet

      Mine had the reverse effect with Chrome finally crashing my entire system while Firefox nightly had 0 problems and ran with lower memory. Weird eh?

      • http://www.flavors.me/warmth Daniel @warmth Delgado

        That’s weird…

  • arete777

    I would guess they’re doing some custom Javascript that depends on your browser. Then a simple bug in the Firefox-specific code would explain it. I do use Firefox and haven’t had these issues at all so it might just be something specific with your setup.

  • lefty.crupps

    it’s hard to read your page when you’re constantly yelling in CAPS.

    • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

      What CAPS??

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  • Yash Pal

    I am not an I T person but a simple(ton) user and cannot carry out any of the tests to prove or disprove that Firefox is being throttled.

    But I am very sure that ‘fear of the Orwellian future they are capable of realizing for us all’ is not unfounded. I have also watched with trepidation the rise and rise of google and their diversifications (which are required to expand their businesses). It should not happen that ultimately their dominance strangles us all.

  • http://twitter.com/djlk Daniel Lizio-Katzen

    I’m actually having the exact same issue on Win 7 Pro with Firefox 12. I use both Firefox (work email and apps) and Chrome (personal email and apps) actively and have no issues with Gmail in Chrome, but I am continually having to do forced refreshes in Gmail on Firefox (even with all Add-ons disabled in power mode). This just started within the last 10 days. Never had issues before. It’s actually made me switch back to Outlook as my primary email client for my work email.

    • http://twitter.com/djlk Daniel Lizio-Katzen

      Looks like this issue has been cleared up. FF 12.0 with SPDY enabled is now performing almost as well as Chrome again.

  • SomeGuest

    Can’t reproduce. Neither on Ubuntu 11 nor on Ubuntu 12. Both Firefox and Chrome work equally well (except for Firefox having an insane memory consumption).

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