Browsers. Firefox first.

by Matt 26. September 2008 18:25

There’s been a bit of activity on the browser front lately, and a couple of things have piqued my interest about each release. So, I’m going to start by being the least topical I can and look at Firefox.

Now, I’ve always been an Internet Explorer person. Clearly, I’ve known about Firefox for years, even dipped my toes a couple of times, but I’ve never switched. I knew it was more standards compliant, faster, more extensible, blah, blah, blah.

I just didn’t feel the love.

And there are two reasons why. Firstly, (and I know this is close to heresy, but it’s true) IE is good enough. If you’re not a web developer, then IE is just fine. As a user, I don’t care if a site is xhtml or tag soup. I don’t care how hard it was to develop. I’m using the majority share browser, and you’ll make your site work for it. I win. The same can be said for speed. Firefox is faster, but IE is fast enough.

The second point was one I didn’t realise until I read a blog post by Paul Thurrott. Firefox left me cold because it’s not a native application and the look and feel was like an old school Unix app.

Shallow? Perhaps.

But to quote Mozilla’s UI designer Alex Faaborg’s blog (referenced in the above post):

Personally I think a unified cross platform UI results in applications that at best feel foreign everywhere, and at worst don’t even feel like real applications.

Bingo.

You can tell a non-native application a mile off. VB6, .net or XUL – there’s just something in the look and feel that’s not right. A slowness, visual cues or whatever. It matters.

Firefox 2 wasn’t very good looking. It didn’t use standard OS buttons and other widgets, dialogs had text clipping off the edge of the screen. It was just a bit clunky.

And Firefox 3 was going to fix all of that. Worth keeping an eye on.

As did Paul Thurrott. With mounting disappointment.

So, Firefox 3 got released and didn’t quite deliver on the native look and feel promise. Oh well. Along came the Glasser extension to give us Aero Glass, and Vista toolbars. Add the Hide Menubar extension and you’ve not got a browser that looks nice and native, and not a million miles away from another browser. All of which made it much nicer.

Shame they messed up the tab handling though. Try doing Ctrl-tab in Visual Studio and Word. It cycles through the tabs in a most recently used fashion. Firefox decides to simply cycle left to right. And when you open a new tab, it opens on the far right, rather than next to the current tab. LastTab and Tabs Open Relative fix this.

So yes, extensions. Firefox has an astonishing number of extensions, some useful, some not so. You can, if you choose, turn your browser into something that no longer resembles a browser. Email notifiers, weather forecasters, calendaring reminders, idle-time photo “screen savers”. Why you’d want to put these into your browser is beyond me.

It’s interesting that the majority of the extensions I have installed are what I’d consider to be functionality that should be part of the base browser…

But what this means is that I’m a convert. FF3 is my default browser, mainly due to 2 killer features. Not the Awesome Bar (which is very nice), nor the password manager, or the database backed history and bookmarks. Not even the rock solid stability, speed of rendering or site compatibility.

Nope. Second favourite killer feature is an add-on: AdBlock Plus. It’s only when I’m using another browser do I see how impressive this add-on is.

The best feature of Firefox is it’s ability to save the session, between crashes or restarts or just simply closing the browser. It’s this feature that made me switch.

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