You may not have heard, but Firefox 29 was released this week. Version 29? Yes. It appears even the most modest update these days merits a full version number. Google Chrome is at version 34-odd and counting. But I’ve lost count, and it would take only the most dedicated power user with obsessive/compulsive predilections to define the changes from one version to the next.
But with the new Firefox, things have changed in a fairly comprehensive way. There’s a neater interface that, on the Mac version, seems flatter with perhaps a tad of iOS pretension. That’s a good thing, since Firefox has become the staid choice among browsers these days. For extensibility, all those great add-ons, it’s great. But if you want the best possible performance, not so great.
At one time, Firefox, from Mozilla, formed from the ashes of the original Netscape browser that Microsoft destroyed in the marketplace, was the alternate browser of choice. This was particularly true on the Windows platform as Internet Explorer languished with questionable levels of performance, rendering accuracy and notorious security bugs.
But the changes in Firefox became so incremental over the years, you wondered if it was relevant anymore. The upstart, Google Chrome, which originally used Apple’s WebKit as a rendering engine, same as Safari, was slim and fast. Over time, its market share caught up with Firefox, though I don’t know why. I never took to Chrome, and the fact that I was opening myself up to Google tracking of my goings on, unless deliberately turned off, didn’t endear the app to me.
Indeed, I mostly just use Safari these days for regular use. You can argue about individual features that may be better implemented in other browsers. At the end of the day, I just want fast, accurate display of sites, with easy control of tabs and decent levels of security. I will use other browsers to check my sites for rendering accuracy and possible performance glitches, but otherwise Safari fits neatly into my comfort zone.
On the Windows platform, ditching Internet Explorer is actually par for the course, but online analytics of the most popular browsers varies depending on who is doing the sampling. So when I checked the “Realtime Web Analytics With no Sampling” page from Net Applications for traditional desktop computers, I found Internet Explorer still ahead with a 57.96% share. Chrome was second with 17.52%, and Firefox took the third spot with 17.26%. Safari brings up the rear with a 5.68%, partly influenced by the fact that a Windows version is no longer being developed.
In passing, Opera, where many of the best ideas for browsers, such as tabs, originated, still remains the afterthought.
Of course the numbers are strictly academic. You should use the app you prefer without regard to how many others agree with you. But Internet Explorer became poison this week with the warning around the world not to use it, any version, because of a serious security problem. A security bulletin reported that “US-CERT is aware of active exploitation of a use-after-free vulnerability in Microsoft Internet Explorer,” and even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said stay away.
While I haven’t heard of how many PCs might have been compromised, that news had to come as a huge embarrassment for Microsoft, which is busy trying to rebuild itself as a device and services company under the leadership of newly-minded CEO Satya Nadella. Indeed, Microsoft announced the fix on Wednesday, including one for Windows XP which, as you recall, is supposedly no longer supported.
Now I realize many of you can give me chapter and verse why I should favor one browser over another, and I respect those opinions. In fact, I have been examining the possibilities of Firefox now that the new version is out. The look and feel is better. It’s a lighter gray than Safari, whose dark gray interface can seem a tad depressing. Even better, Firefox was relatively quick to launch on my vintage 27-inch iMac, and rendering speed was unexpectedly snappy.
I did not make any effort to measure actual performance. These days, a top-flight browser is almost lightning-quick with a fast broadband connection and a well-crafted site. The differences are in the tiny fractions of a second that most of you will never notice, even if you look real hard.
The rich selection of browser extensions is the feather in Firefox’s cap. There’s one, in fact, that checks a site to see if it’s impacted by the Heartbleed bug, a big-time security vulnerability that impacted OpenSSL, a widely used open source app. Since it’s not at all certain how many sites might still be vulnerable, I find that utility might actually make the argument in favor of Firefox, particularly if your online visits stray beyond the normal sites and move far afield to more obscure choices.
I’ll try to hang with Firefox for a while and see if I can get a taste for it. But it would help if Mozilla could devise a display feature to match Apple’s Reader. For now I’ve installed the equivalent Reader extension, but it doesn’t seem to toggle on and off as Apple’s does.
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