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Firefox comes of age.. finally.

I want to preface this post by explaining something that my close friends have known for years. I’ve always been a software hobbyist on the lookout for stuff that’s better than other stuff. Since 1986 I’ve been researching various utilities (Amiga enthusiasts: remember Fish, ANC and UGA utility disks?), pitting them against each other and identifying winners in each category. I built up a whole stack of personal criteria of what’s good and what’s bad based on a fairly old-school philosophy born of the days when computers came with BASIC programming manuals and the first thing you were expected to do on them was type 10 PRINT HELLO; 20 GOTO 10. My overruling criteria have always been that the programs have to be tightly coded (the opposite of bloatware), efficiently use system resources, not crash, not have ambiguous functionality and actually be useful. Due to Mozilla Firefox’s missing the mark on several of these items I have not recommended its use for years. A phenomenon has been taking the world in its wretched grasp for quite a while now (I’ll lament about it in another post sometime). It is a meme of misinformation. People have been misinformed and misguided about Firefox ever since it came out and I have fought a strong battle to drum sense into those people. Nobody ever listens to the reason of the wise few, of course. Maybe they’ll be happier to read about it.

The fallacies about Firefox that sparked my anger were:

  • It “finally” allows people to achieve the mystical nirvana that is tabbed browsing. Truth is that Opera had tabbed, MDI browsing over ten years ago, and IE shells such as Maxthon allowed users to use the world’s most popular and compatible browsing engine in a tabbed environment a LONG time before Firefox was put together. Trust me on this – I was doing tabbed browsing in IE way, way, WAY before FF came out.
  • It allows a “safer” browsing experience. Truth is that FF simply passed the buck on these matters. I lost track of the conversations I had with people who firmly believed that forcing the user to SAVE an executable file from the net to their hard drive effectively eliminated risk of virus or spyware infection. CRAP! My response was that FF made an absolutely guaranteed two-step infection out of what would otherwise have been a guaranteed one-step infection. What’s the next thing you do after your browser forces you to save a file out? YOU RUN IT! Right! Gold star. Blue ribbon. Dhry’s Honorary Medal of Wisdom. Firefox also disabled ActiveX controls under the foolish idea that they are a major cause of system infection, completely forgetting about the legitimate uses of these controls and denying them to its users, not to mention implying that it was the be-all end-all of system protection and that people were otherwise too stupid to ALSO be running standalone antivirus and antispyware tools.
  • It strictly conforms to web standards, which is a “good thing”. Truth is that while I agree with the idea of conforming to standards, the idea of HTML standards became skewed back in the late 90’s when Microsoft started making their own rules about the web. Netscape was out there, then IE came along and pretty soon after the antitrust dust had cleared (translation: Netscape had quit whining that nobody would use their browser anymore since IE came with Windows for FREE, like the rest of the world gave a toss) everyone on the planet was using IE. Websites were written for it and its quirks. It BECAME the global standard for web browsing. At some point, a propeller-cap-wearing dunce without a girlfriend decided that we should all “take back the web” and this standards crap started to take hold. IE has relaxed standards. FF has draconian ones. I’ve struggled at my work for years trying to tell people that if it doesn’t work in FF, to use IE.. and sighed as the usual bullcrap about “I’m only going to use FF and that’s that” was thrown back at me. Once again, the meme of misinformation. Bottom line? FF should also have relaxed standards and should give the user the option of using IE-compatibility mode or “strict” mode – where the user could make their own choice. It didn’t do that until maybe a year or so ago.. but we’ll get to that shortly.
  • It’s “faster”. Truth is that it’s only partially faster. FF 3.0.*’s rendering engine is a little faster than IE (yes, I mean a LITTLE). But the load times for the app are way slower than several IE shells. Try loading FF with a couple of extensions, then try loading GreenBrowser with a couple of plugins. Now use ProcessExplorer and take a look at the memory usage. You’ll see what I mean.

And so I continued to reinstall and give Firefox a fair go every few months, then laugh at it and uninstall it as the DEFECTS that people ignored time and time again persisted throughout each minor and major release. FINALLY I am comfortable that these defects have been addressed and I can now verify that Firefox is fit for world consumption:

  • I had to laugh when I first saw the IETab extension become available. I still laugh when I see stats showing almost 200,000 downloads per week and over 21 million downloads of that extension to date. Despite all the FF wanker comments about better, faster, more standards-compliant page rendering, this extension corrects a defect in FF that has existed since it was born – it allows you to view pages in the Internet Explorer rendering engine! What that means is that you no longer have to separately load IE to do a WindowsUpdate or visit any of the vast amount of websites that do not support Firefox.
  • I considered the fact that FF did not allow you to run an executable directly from a website to be an absolute, hands-down dealbreaker, and then I saw the OpenDownload extension. Mandatory. Allows executable to be clicked on and opened directly from a website – without you being forced to save it to your HD, open a browser, navigate to the file and THEN run it (whereupon FF can claim “hey, I didn’t let you run it, YOU ran it separately, therefore I’m completely exonerated from blame when your system gets infected!”).

Just these two extensions alone bring FF back into the fold as a viable alternative browser. It’s still bloated to hell but at least now you can use it without the two most major hindrances to its performance. For the other extensions, you’re free to find and try. The rest of the browser interface is okay for everyday browsing (despite being nothing new), but I would advise you to do one last thing if you’re considering the move. Go to Tools –> Options –> Security and uncheck the two options that start with “Tell me if the site..”. These options not only cause browsing slowdowns, but they download a MASSIVE “security” file and save it in a 50Mb+ database file on your HD. Forget it.

Oh, and last tip of this posting. Don’t even bother with FF’s stupid AdBlock Plus extension. This only works in FF and it’s not that great either. I recommend getting AdMuncher, Aussie-written and the absolute best popup blocker available. I’ll write more about that one in a separate post, but for the moment all you need to know is that it applies some fantastic protection to EVERY internet-oriented program – email clients, web-browsers, standalone RSS feed readers and more.