Friday, June 18, 2004

Why I Use Mozilla Firefox 

About a year ago, I switched over to Phoenix (as it was originally called) as my regular browser. I always felt a bit uneasy in it, since it had a few rough edges. A lot of the preferences dialogs had "Fixmes" in them, and Flash wouldn't work without running the installation again (which is a pain when the thing is only distributed as nightly builds without an installer). Of course, this was only questionably a bad thing: not having Flash installed removes a lot of ads. But it also makes watching Strongbad Email a pain. But over time, I felt that the nightly builds were getting more unstable, so I gave up on it for the time being.

A few days ago, they released a new version of Firefox, as it is now called. Joel Spolsky has mentioned before that he had switched to Firebird (as it was then called; long story...), but he went ahead and gave it another plug.

Now, I definitely feel ashamed for having such a strong preference here. Certain things are so ubiquitous and common that getting a real hot-rod version of it would rightly peg you as a hopeless dork. The browser has obviously crossed into this territory by now.

The only problem with such obviously true things is that they are often wrong. If you don't care that much, you're probably using IE6, which came with Windows XP when it shipped in 2001. That's a long time to use a program which hasn't changed at all. Caring enough to seek out and download a web browser might make me a hopeless dork, but it's worth it. You can be cool and manually close all your popups, and tell IE to give you back the status bar again. I'm so done with that.

Using Firefox, I feel like some sort of Geek God. The browser is an extension of my will: I go to links just by typing some of the link text and hitting enter; I open multiple pages in tabs and jump between, all without interference from new windows I don't ask for.

Of course, there are always tradeoffs. It's not all paradise. Like, uh, for example...smooth scrolling feels slightly less smooth than in IE.
Alas, some pages only display properly with IE 6. I doubt, for example, that you went to the lengths to uninstall IE.

I like Firebird for reading the Onion. I don't know why, but the Onion decided to use a rediculously small sized font... with a setting such that setting the font to "Larger" in IE doesn't do anything but shift some blank lines. Mozilla seems to understand that when the user says fonts should be larger, they better damn well be larger.

But Firebird takes too long to start up, so I typically only use it when I need to (a) read the Onion, (b) use a browser that has cookies (my IE is on high security), or (c) test my own page on different browsers. Oh, and (d) read Javadoc generated frames without the infuriating IE horizontal-scroll-bar-that-won't-go-away bug.
Sure, "some pages." None of the pages I go to. None.

And why is it relevant whether or not I uninstalled IE? I didn't even think that was possible, for one thing. But in any case, what would that even mean?

I don't know what you're talking about with regards to startup time either. It's as instantaneous from a cold start as IE, at least for me. I remember my former roommate Mike complained that it took a long time to load as well; never figured out what that was about.
Firefox is a great browser, if for no other reason because it (and Mozilla/Safari/etc) is forcing Microsoft to improve IE. That won't affect my life much (I use Firefox at home but am stuck with IE at work) but it should improve the browsing experience for the millions of people who don't have the time or interest for a non-IE browser.

The only thing I miss in Firefox is the Ctrl-Enter shortcut to turn "whatever" in the address bar to "www.whatever.com". Just about everything else is an improvement.
Well, startup times vary, I guess. Don't know why it's faster for you, but it's not too surprising. Perhaps if I ever upgrade to a full gig of RAM it will be nice and peppy.

Anyway, IE with the google toolbar has certain bells and whistles that Mozilla-* doesn't have. (Perhaps "yet" is the keyword? Some of them are trivial, some of them less so.)

In my experience about one out of every six new sites I need to see (sites that are more than just static HTML) work only on IE. Perhaps it's because I never installed flash or real on Firebird... but it's nice to have a browser around that doesn't have either, and IE is around, so I see no dilemma. -Macneil
Jake: When was the last time you tried Firefox? A large portion of my browsing these days is done of the form "Alt-D, gmail, Ctrl-Enter" so perhaps it has been added since you last checked. And I agree about your other point; unfortunately I'm not very loyal. If IE starts giving me everything Firefox does, but it comes with the default install, I probably wouldn't bother to download Firefox in the future. I think that's a ways off, but in any case, the important thing is being able to browse the web conveniently, and whatever allows me to do that with the least hassle is what I'll use.

I remember how I originally started using IE 3. I was a long-time Netscape user, as everyone else was, and I'd seen the sewage that was IE 2. But a page on Microsoft.com listed all the benefits of IE over Netscape, and they seemed compelling. I downloaded it, tried it out, and enjoyed the interface much more than Netscape's clunky, cross-platform interface. Not every page worked the same as on Netscape, but it was good enough to make it worth it.

Macneil: Just for the record, I have 512MB of RAM, and have a slow laptop hard drive (since I use a laptop). But, I cannot argue with what you have in front of you.

As for the Google toolbar, I've been using it, since it's the only thing that's made IE bearable so far. I'm not really clear on what those other features are, though. Firefox has a google search bar, and you can put links to related google sites up there if you want. Are you saying you really miss the PageRank display and the highlight stuff, whatever that is? Firefox is missing the Blogger link, but that's not enough to hold me onto IE. What am I missing?

And, errr, yeah. If a site is Flash, I usually just don't bother. I can't take the hassle of figuring out their stupid interfaces, and waiting for their inconsiderate downloads and looped music. If I see Flash, I'm outta there. In any case, Firefox works perfectly well with Flash, but you have to install it. I don't know if there's something they can do about this; the part of me that likes not having it wants them to do nothing, but I realize that most people actually seem to want to get in the Flash sites. In any case, on pure HTML, the compatibility is nearly perfect, and even if it wasn't, it's certainly good enough that most people would switch and put up with the minor annoyances.
In the google toolbar it's nice to have the autofill in of forms, but maybe Mozilla has that too. The "up directory" button is really nice and useful. The forward and backward buttons to advance through search results is cool. And, of course, the highlighting is better (never have to use "find" again, which is such a dumbass dialog: it will show you the result, but not the couple of lines below it, which might be the valuable context you need).

Doonesbury uses Flash, for whatever reasons.
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