Microsoft and Mozilla Updates: One Minor, One Awesome!

March 12th, 2008

Over the past few days, both Microsoft and Mozilla have released updates that Mac users can benefit from. But their respective value differs substantially.

As promised, the Microsoft Office for Mac 12.0.1 update appeared Tuesday, addressing a number of early-release defects for the newly released suite, plus a few of the usual security patches. On the whole, the update is useful, particularly if you encountered an occasional crash in Word or Excel. In addition, Entourage supposedly can rebuild large mail databases with better stability.

However, a most irksome bug remains unfixed across the suite, and that is the abysmally slow launch times. For example, a cold or fresh launch of Word 2008, newly updated, still takes roughly 14 seconds on the latest Mac Pro with a pair of 2.8GHz Intel Xeon processors and 14GB of RAM. However, it doesn’t fare much worst on my two-year-old 17-inch MacBook Pro with 2.16 GHz Intel Core Duo processor and 2GB RAM. So I can’t attribute it to hard drive speeds, as I’m willing to bet that the Mac Pro’s internal drives are fast enough. These are Apple-supplied WD Caviar SE16s, with these specs: 500 GB, 3 Gb/s, 16 MB Cache, 7200 RPM. Benchmarks show this is a decently-fast mechanism for most normal purposes, including launching a word processor application.

The other Office 2008 applications don’t fare any better. But maybe Microsoft hasn’t put launch speed on its priority list, since I can’t recall any reviewers making a big deal of it. Or should we be waiting for version 12.0.2? Or maybe I’m alone in encountering this issue, although truth to tell, it didn’t launch any faster on a test Power Mac G5 Quad.

In any case, I was far more encouraged with the recently-posted Firefox 3.0 beta 4 release, since that worthy browser is rapidly approaching the point where you can use it full time. It’s available, as usual, for the Mac OS, Windows and Linux, and many of the improvements can be felt on a platform-agnostic basis. A long-standing issue involves rampant memory leaks, where Firefox would steal more and more RAM from your system the longer you run it. Lots of work has gone into cleaning out the application to reduce its long-term memory footprint.

In the Mac version, the interface is rapidly acquiring the cherished Mac-like veneer, despite being developed on a cross-platform code base. Even better, first launch is much quicker, and site rendering smoother, and far more accurate. Mozilla claims to have improved JavaScript performance by a huge margin, and published benchmarks indicate it bests Firefox 2, Safari 3, Opera and any version of Internet Explorer you can think of. The latter is, as you might expect, dead last in any real world benchmark.

One of the most important defects in Firefox up till now, as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that it doesn’t support printing as well as Safari. Some sites historically produced blank pages, or only delivered part of the content. The imaging engine has improved greatly and I don’t see this problem, at least so far. However, with my 10.5.2 Macs, there’s no print progress bar after you click the Print button. Worse, Firefox still doesn’t support Leopard’s new dialogs, which combine the Page Setup and Print features in one window, and include previews of the pages you’re going to output. But that’s also true for lots of third-party programs that also need to get some sort of update.

On the whole, the glitches with Firefox 3 are lessening. I still find a few on this site, particularly with the spacing of the banner ads on our sidebars, but I have dutifully reported all that to the Mozilla developers in the hope that they, too, shall be history at least by the Release Candidate stage.

What impresses me more, however, is the clear dedication Mozilla has shown to continuing to make Firefox a world class browser. Although I still frequently use Safari, the combination on the Mac and Windows platforms continues to shrink Internet Explorer’s market share. Even bundling IE 7 on Windows Vista, and pushing downloads of the same version to Windows XP holdouts hasn’t stopped Microsoft’s market share decline. The last figure I heard was 74%, and as the numbers go down, more and more sites will be encouraged to fix their code to allow the rest of the world to view their sites without having to use an inferior and less-secure browser.

Of course, there’s the promise that IE 8 will somehow adhere to Internet standards with far more fidelity, but the first beta is reportedly quite shaky and those absurd compatibility modes will only make it more difficult to use under normal circumstances. Microsoft has never comprehended what it means to just keep it simple — stupid!

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3 Responses to “Microsoft and Mozilla Updates: One Minor, One Awesome!”

  1. Dana Sutton says:

    In a lot of ways Firefox is a terrific browser, but it does have some other problems besides. One of these is the way it handles Unicode. Imagine, for example, a page of Roman text with an embedded Greek quotation. If you select a serifed polytonic font that has its own range of Greek characters, say Times New Roman or Palatino Linotype (the former comes with the OSX package, the latter with the Windows one), Firefox will ignore the Greek characters from that font and insist on displaying the ones taken from Lucinda Grande (which in the context of a handsome serifed font like the two I just mentioned look like they were designed with a chainsaw). Most readers will think this is a very minor glitch, as indeed it is if you are an American user and don’t have any need for Greek or any other alphabet that requires Unicode to display properly in html. But if you happen to be a Greek living in Athens or a speaker of any other affected language, it becomes very important indeed, and Unicode is increasingly important for Web designers because you can use it to display other things besides non-Roman alphabets, such as sophisticated typography (curly quotes, em-dashes and so forth), mathematical and musical notation, logical symbols, etc. etc. I deal in Unicode professionally, and the only two browsers I know that handle text exactly right, Unicode and all, are Safari and OmniWeb.

  2. I’ll remember that next time I visit Greece 🙂


  3. Come to think of it, make that the first time I visit Greece. 😀


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