In 1989 we had zero web browsers as we know them today, allthough just about to be invented around the corner. In 1999 we had two web browsers fighting a death match, Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator – a fight with Netscape cleverly lost by dying and coming back several open source reincarnations of which Firefox of course is the most well known today. 2009 is turning out to be yet another battle year for browsers, this time many more of them! We have (in no special order) the newcommer Google Chrome fighting Firefox and Internet Explorer (mainly the PC-side). We have Opera who has cut out a piece of the action on several systems but shine mostly in portable devices. Safari is ruling the Macintosh but is starting to get some interference from Firefox.
Well that is now, what is next? I ready a post about current state of browser development, and many of the major browsers have a beta our that will maybe go live sometime during the next year. While this might be very good news for home users I am sure it will mean alot of work for someone like myself who create on-line applications. There used to be a lot of tuning to make web pages and applications look and work the same on the old “two major browsers”, now we have at least 5! Unless the browser developers makes a great effort to follow the rules of the standards each web page have to compensate for how a particular browser parses the data.
In the past Internet Explorer have seemingly intentionally ignored several standards in favour of making programmers like myself forced to make pages look good on their browser. Internet Explorer is afterall the dominating browser and it have to work. The question is if this strategy is allowed to continue. I really hope for the sake of us programmers that while there are five new browser versions about to be released that several of them will render the basic pages using the same rulset.
With the release of Firefox 3 I finally made the switch on all my computers to have this as the main web browser instead of Internet Explorer that used to be standard on some of my windows machines (I have too many computers I use daily). There where several reasons I switched and I thought I’d publish them so perhaps other people could find the same benefits I saw.
First of all I have no love for Microsoft in general, while they have some good products I do not find Internet Explorer to be one of them. They seem to invest as little as possible in it and only making changes when “forced” by an outside source (take tabed browsing for example, it wasn’t included into Internet Explorer until Firefox started using it). I’d also like to point out that other web browsers like Safari and Opera might also be great but I haven’t had the time to get acquainted with them. This also only concerns desktop/laptop browsers, on my Wii and phone I use Opera!
Why did I choose Firefox as my main browser? Here is the simple list:
- Security – this is probably the main reason. Firefox out of the box is a slightly lesser target for hackers at the moment but while that might change there are several other factors making Firefox the number one security choice and one of them is the addon NoScript. A really nifty little program that simply stops all scripts on all pages you visit. With a simple click you can activate a single domain to use scripts either always or just temporarily for your current visit. This really improves security while browsing the Internet. While some pages look terrible these days without scripting ability you can always choose to trust those that you want to visit (and remember you used to trust ALL of them). This still doesnt save you if your favourite site is targeted by a cross-site scripting attack but at least being conservative with who may run scripts on your computer makes the odds work against you being a target.
- Speed – the rendering engine of Firefox 3 seems faster, I do not know if this is true of just a perception of mine. It may also help that I’ve installed AdBlock Plus. This is another great addon that makes you able to block all incoming adds before they are downloaded, you can either manually block different ad-vendors by domain or different filters or you can also choose to subscribe to a kind of blacklist filter. With the blacklist filter “EasyList” most of the ads are gone! Visiting ad heavy site used to be very slow but with all the flash graphics and different connections to ad servers but with the filter in place you get to download what you really came from and not all the crap the site tries to throw at you. I’ve also found this very helpfull while being out with my laptop and wanting to conserve the amount of traffic I use while browsing the web.
- AddOns – I’ve allready mentioned two addons but still the ability to customize your browser deserves special mention as well. While the average guy might not be able to develop addons for Firefox the open interface makes it perfect for everybody wanting to add their own idea to the web browser. This is clearly a popular feature and when visiting the official addon site you can download almost anything you could think of to pimp your browser.
- Privacy – while maybe not a reason to install the web browser at my own computers the privacy settings and features of firefox are very well to my liking, when I use a public computer I use Firefox if they have it since the ability to remove personal data is made so easy.
- Bookmarks / History – a fresh take on bookmarks and history is made in Firefox 3. I don’t know if I’m alone in having stoped to add bookmarks for everything but the improvements really support my way of browsing. The history list is made part of the bookmarks with features to visit the latest sites (also available in most browsers with history of course) but also the most visited sites. If you choose to skip bookmarks all togheter (like I usually do) and just type the URL the dropdown that used to be only the domains is expanded with domain, icon, title and a small description of the site. This really helps casual browsing and is a nice looking feature.
- Open Source – while not a major benefit in itself I am a strong supporter of open source and if there are two products, one open source and one proprietary software I would go for the open source alternative any day (on a private level, this might be different in a business point of view depending on the situation).
While there are major improvements in choosing Firefox there are of course also drawbacks. Most of these are minor and will probably change with time. There are a few sites that just doesnt work well in Firefox and one of them is my on-line bank which at the moment only accepts Internet Explorer. These sites are very rare though and I think most site administrators are adapting to the fact that Firefox is becoming one of the major browsers.
Firefox is no longer a browser trying to catch up with Internet Explorer, Firefox just took the lead. Now let’s see some healthy competition and more innovate features ahead in all browsers.