You may have noticed my shameless promotion of Firefox lately. It’s a love relationship that goes a while back, to when it was still called Firebird and was just a test thing. Now — well, it certainly has grown: 25 million downloads since November, a browser share that approaches the 10% which seemed a utopian goal only a couple of months ago (that’s the general share; at some sites it already hovers around 30%), and it seems that nobody who spends some time on the net could have missed seeing it mentioned. (Or am I wrong? If you want to give some feedback on this, I would be quite curious to know how many of you didn’t know there was something called Firefox until I started my “campaign”, how many have installed it now, and are you satisfied with it?)
Here are my top reasons to use Firefox instead of the thing with the blue “e” :
- It’s not the thing with the blue “e”, part I.
That is: using Firefox, you are entitled to feel savvy and independent — you are free from the shackles of the huge corporation which heretofore has decided just about everything which has to do with computers — which means everything — and you can can count yourself among the discriminating bunch who know what they’re doing, who have consciously and willingly chosen to download, install, and use a certain program, and not just click on what came with the box.
- It’s not the thing with the blue “e”, part II.
That is: it doesn’t share its peculiaritites and flaws. The thing with the blue “e” has its own way of doing things, it adds its own coding features and renders the otherwise generally accepted systems of http and css in a corrupt way. As long as it sat in 95% of the machines in the world, this might not have mattered, apart from the monopolizing effect, and the fact that its solutions are generally bad.
One of them is ActiveX. At first sight it is a blessing for the user, with the way it enhances the interaction with a web page. But at most it is a blessing in disguise, at worst a curse. In any case, it is a huge security hole. Briefly stated, an ActiveX control is a Windows program like any other, and it can do anything on your computer that an ordinary Windows program can — which means everything. In order to run, it must be accepted by the user, usually based on a security certificate, but those are easy to get, and more in general it is a problem with a system which puts user-friendliness over security, but still gives the user the full responsibility.
Firefox does not come with ActiveX. This has been presented as a flaw in the media but it received immediate response from all kinds of users as one major security advantage.
The workspace can be tweaked and twisted to suit your needs, and if you don’t have any special needs, you can just leave it as it is, and it’s fine like that too. What bugs me most about Microsoft products, even the ones which are widely superior to any alternatives I’ve tried, such as Word, is that the “user friendly” interface stops being user friendly when you go beyond everyday use. From there, it’s hell to find the correct settings, buried deep down in menus or even program code. With Firefox, you can type “about:config” in the address field, and you get a list of all the configuration settings. It may not be obvious what to do with them, but at least they’re there, and a quick search in the Mozilla forums will usually give you an idea what to do. Better for advanced users as well as for “average surfers”.
- The extensions.
The ultimate in configurability is the plethora of extensions that are available, ranging from small gadgets which add an item to the context menu or allow you to move up one level in the document hierarchy with Alt-UpArrow, to toolbars, text editors, color pickers, a full fledged Calendar, you name it.
These are the extensions I can’t live without:
- StumbleUpon. A toolbar which with a click sends you to a randomly picked site which someone has liked. I spend too much time stumbling, but I like it!
- WebDeveloper. The perfect tool, not only if you are a web developer, but also if you just want to see how a webpage is constructed.
- Calendar. I’ve tried to be organized before but always failed miserably (this can be confirmed by anyone who has ever had an appointment with me). The Mozilla Calendar project is still under development, but already at this stage it works wonderfully.
- Minesweeper. Yes! With up to seven mines per tile, it makes this more of a challenge than the plain vanilla version.
- Sage. An organizer for RSS/Atom feeds. Does what it’s supposed to do.
- ScrapBook. Collects web pages or clippings from web pages, and random notes, in an organized way, where you can edit, add notes, or export the whole thing. Great for collecting info from different sources, e.g.
- Tabbed browsing.
Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back. Ctrl-click ten hits from a Google-search, and they will load in the background in separate tabs. Indispensable.
- The community.
I mentioned the forums… There’s always discussion going on about various features, future or present. If you want to join, that’s fine, but if you just need a quick answer about a setting (“How do I speed up Firefox at startup?”) you will usually find it (“Use the Prefetch function”). The fact that Firefox is Open Source not only means that it’s free, but also that there’s a whole bunch of enthusiastic people designing new, exciting extensions, things you don’t need, but definitely want, and vice versa.
The speed is a common argument in favor of Firefox, and it seems to be true. My only point of slight dissatisfaction is with the way Firefox rebuilds a page every time you visit it, even if it is in the cache, which means that going forwards and backwards in the browser window will take some time. Opera is far better in this respect: here, the previous page is back instantaneously. Something (more) for Firefox to copy…