Apparently, Firefox uses an embedded database to store your preferences, bookmarks, cache, etc, and it cannot tolerate multiple simultaneous access. So, if you try to run multiple instances at once, it has to be clever enough to find the running copy and tell it to open a new window. If it cannot find it because the other copy is running in another console or on another machine, you get this ridiculous message:
Exhibit 3: Google Chrome is supposed to be the re-invention of the web browser, except simpler and more robust. Instead of threads, it uses this new-fangled technology called "processes" instead of those old gnarly threads. So far, so good. Then Firefox decides to get on this bandwagon.
Unfortunately, Firefox is missing the point entirely. The plan is to break the UI that controls all the windows into one process, and the plugins, parsers, renderers, etc into separate processes. It should come as no surprise that this makes things even more complicated, because the various pieces have to communicate with each other. More subtly, it makes the failure semantics really strange: if a helper process dies, one window will fail, but if the UI process dies, a whole bunch of windows will fail. If you look at the set of running processes, you are going to see an unpredictable number of processes with names that have no relation to what you are actually doing.
Everyone seems to have missed a ridiculously simple solution to all of these problems: Run each browser window in a separate process. You don't have to separate out all of the complex plugins, renderers, and so forth, because if one crashes, it will only take down that window. Furthermore, to open a new browser page in any context, all you have to do is fork() and exec("browser http://") and the operating system takes care of the rest.
See also: On Parallel Programming with Processes