• Firefox Update: Universal, But Not Much Better

    April 15th, 2006

    Although lots of you have settled on Firefox as your browser of choice for both the Mac and Windows environments, I remain on the fence, at least on my Mac. Sure, it opens pages quite speedily, and I like the fact that previously-viewed sites appear almost instantaneously when you click the back button. I also like the fact that it’s making reasonable progress in grabbing market share from Internet Explorer for Windows.

    At the same time, I keep returning to Safari because a few little things about Firefox don’t quite appeal to my personal sensibilities. Take initial launch time. Yesterday, when the Universal version,, appeared, I ran the built-in update feature on a copy installed on a 20-inch Intel-based iMac. I expected wonders in light of how Safari sings on a MacIntel, but my initial encounter was disappointing. Yes, Firefox’s launch times were faster, but not noticeably better than on a PowerPC Mac.

    I did a quick Get Info probe and, yes, it was the correct version, but it bore the label “PowerPC” rather than “Universal.” Did the automatic update process somehow fail to replace the appropriate application code? Well, no sense trying to fathom the unfathomable, so I just downloaded a full copy, and replaced the application. This time it was properly labeled as Universal application, or at least that’s what the iMac’s Finder told me, but it still didn’t alter performance noticeably. All I can say is that the previous version, running in Rosetta emulation, ran much worse, so that’s progress, and repeat launches were reasonably swift.

    So, once you get past this relatively minor shortcoming, what’s not to like? Sure, it does have a world-class browser engine, and I agree that, in some respects, it does seem a swifter beast than Safari. But the little things still irritate, and maybe it’s because it bears the veneer of not being completely Mac-like.

    Take the bookmarks menu. Why is there no support for site icons, or Favicons? It’s not a serious shortcoming, but one that even Firefox’s Mac-only sibling, Camino, manages to overcome. I can see the cards and letters even now suggesting I’ve lost my senses over such a tiny issue, but there you go.

    I am also one of those people who prefers to print long Web documents rather than just sit and read them on the screen. Call me old fashioned, but it gives me the flexibility of taking my research with me to the bedroom or to the lunch table; that is when I have lunch by myself, and not with friends or family present. It reminds me when my father, long deceased, would come to my home back in New York with newspaper in hand, sit down at our kitchen table, and begin to read. Incredibly, his attention never wavered from our conversation, so maybe he needed the paper as a crutch, just in case we began to bore him.

    Maybe it’s a habit I’ve somehow inherited in my middle years.

    My problem with Firefox is that, in formatting pages to fit within the boundaries of the printed page, it makes the text too small. This is a defect of other Mozilla-based browsers, and I wonder if nobody else cares, since I don’t think it would be all that difficult to overhaul the print engine. In case you’re wondering, font preferences are identical to those of Safari, in every respect, and I do not encounter the problem in the latest versions of Opera, even the current prerelease of version 9, which also has Universal support.

    Now maybe the developers at Mozilla are younger than I and do not regard smaller text as seriously as I do. Yes, I can read the words, despite the tiny point sizes. I’ve worn contact lenses or glasses for decades, but I do not need any additional correction for reading. At least not yet. Perhaps those developers are just trying to save trees, which is a commendable goal, although I’m not quite pleased with their solution.

    Or maybe it’s me. You see, I’m not particularly enamored of browser tabs either. I don’t mind if the application spawns numerous windows, cascading across or down the screen, and I’m not unaccustomed to jumping from one to the other. Sure, I suppose I should give tabs a try, and one day I will, but it’s not a priority in my life.

    The real browser feature I crave is the ability to restore your working environment when the application is relaunched. Opera and OmniWeb have figured out a solution for that requirement. Maybe Firefox 2.0? Or perhaps Apple will reveal an even more compelling technique when they introduce Mac OS 10.5 and the expected Safari 3.0.

    Now when it comes to running a Windows, even on that iMac on which it was installed courtesy of Boot Camp, I always stick with Firefox. I avoid Internet Explorer like the plague and it’s nice to know that more and more Windows users are also getting the message.

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