Firefox 2.0: Please Don’t Forget Printing

October 10th, 2006

One of the important features of an application designed to run on a Mac is that it is “Mac like,” which conveys the feeling that it provides at least passing adherence to Apple’s interface guidelines. Of course, it’s important to realize that even Apple’s own products don’t always past muster here, but you do want to feel that you’re not using actually using a Windows application. Well, that is, unless you’re running a Windows emulator or virtual Machine.

This situation can create a dilemma for a company that’s building an application for the Mac, Windows and perhaps Linux. They generally want to make sure that the fundamental look and feel is similar enough to make it easy to use regardless of computing platform, while at the same time conform to the appropriate interface guidelines.

When Firefox first appeared, one of the criticisms had it that it didn’t truly look like a Mac application. It was close and all that, but somehow felt a little rough at the edges. As development of version 2 winds down, I have little to complain about. Other than slightly slow launch process, it works just fine, and you have to be fairly picky about such things to complain about elements of its cross-platform origins.

My concerns are more practical. Here at The Mac Night Owl, I have strived to make sure that you can actually print pages for posterity, regardless of which browser you prefer. We now use WordPress, an online Web publishing tool that makes it superbly simple to update this site and provide extra tools that make it easy for you to get the information you want as quickly as possible. In addition to searching, you can email articles to your friends, post to a sociable site, such as Digg, and, of course, get a fully formatted printed page. Even without the print feature, the text will usually appear in a readable format, with all content intact.

I have worked with my Webmaster, Brent Lee, to make sure that printing is possible on any reasonable popular browser, even recent versions of Windows Internet Explorer.

Even though the arrival of the Internet was supposed to herald the paperless revolution, there are many reasons why you’d want a hard copy from time to time. Perhaps you want to save an article for posterity, for reading when you’re not at your computer, or just to have a copy of a Web transaction for your personal and business records.

Alas, the the developers of some browsers apparently don’t take such considerations too seriously, and you can easily run into serious problems trying to get a printed version of some sites. While I suppose it’s easy to blame the people who design certain sites, a properly-designed browser should accommodate most of these situations without omitting critical text and illustrations.

Here, Firefox works most of the time, but I am forced to return to Safari for some of my favorite online watering holes. Take Daniel Eran’s excellent commentary site, RoughlyDrafted Magazine. You could, I suppose, criticize the fact that it’s actually built in Apple’s iWeb, with some add-ons to provide a few extra features. It prints fine in Safari, but you’re lucky to get more than the first page in Firefox. Similar difficulties occur in Opera, another cross-platform product that has even more severe printing issues. iCab, in contrast, manages the task in a decent fashion, although text is extremely large and most illustrations are absent.

Daniel tells me he is working on the problem, but will probably be forced to use a different publishing tool to provide better printing options. That is, unless Apple changes things in the next version of iLife.

But you can’t just blame Apple for this. Try printing pages from USA Today’s site. Yes, there is actually a Print feature, but the designers for Gannett have opted to omit tables with important content and all or most illustrations if you choose that option. If you attempt to print documents from a regular page in Firefox, it might work, or text might overlap with some of the sidebar ads, or is just shoved to the right and, in part, off the page.

In each case, you could, rightly of course, claim that Firefox is simply adhering to Web standards. If something doesn’t look or print correctly, the site’s designers or the publishing tool they use are actually at fault.

At the same time, Safari can handle most of these sites with aplomb. There are issues here and there, but most of the sites that confound Firefox do print properly in Apple’s browser.

As Mozilla’s developers put the final spit and polish on Firefox 2.0, I hope they’ll consider such matters seriously, and not force us to wait for version 2.5 or later for a resolution.

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3 Responses to “Firefox 2.0: Please Don’t Forget Printing”

  1. Stuart Parmenter says:

    At this point Firefox 2 is in code-lockdown so there won’t be any new improvements to things like printing. Firefox 2 has minimal backend changes (it is built off the same branch as Firefox 1.5) so don’t expect many changes in areas like printing. Firefox 3, which we have been developing in parallel should have much better Mac support as well as better printing.

  2. Dana Sutton says:

    Yes, Gene, this is a serious issue. In my work I need to print from a browser (for one thing, I need to print out Dreamweaver files in wysiwyg form to proofread themn, which you can’t do directly from Dreamweaver). I’ve not had very good luck printing from several browsers, including Safari and Firefox. But I’ve found that OmniWeb works great for printing. Even if you don’t use it as your regular browser, you might want to keep a copy on your h. d. for this one purpose.

  3. That is the point of using PDF files on the web – they print out much better. That is why my site has PDF versions of most texts. They are also much easier to navigate for multiple page documents.

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