Switching Back to Firefox

The first web browser I remember using was Netscape Navigator Gold 3.0. I kept using Navigator and its successor Firefox (except for a short affair involving Konqueror while I was using KDE) as my primary web browser both for everyday browsing needs and web development until Google Chrome came out about 9 years ago. Impressed by the speed I switched and did not look back. Until recently…

I was still frequently exposed to Firefox though. As a web developer I always worked on projects that had to support all recent mainstream browsers which includes testing and fixing bugs on Firefox. And I was not impressed. Neither with the visual appeal and ergonomy of the user interface nor the speed and quality (as in lack of bugs and crashes) of the browser engine.

Why bother?

I believe software monocultures are bad and still remember the days when Internet Explorer dominated the web and websites often plain refused to accept me with “This website requires Internet Explorer” or similar messaging.

Feeling increasingly bad about being part of WebKit and Chrome monoculture I tried switching to Firefox earlier this year and failed. It was way too slow, way too buggy and particularly bad for my web development needs.

Then came the Firefox Quantum announcement in November 2017 where Mozilla promised to have made Firefox real fast and and pretty this time. So I decided to give it another try, something I did not regret.

The new Firefox

My first impressions about the user interface were like “wow, this looks way better than it used to!” There are some minor quirks I don’t particularly like, for example the contrast between an active and an inactive window but in general it looks modern (flat design!) and ergonomic.

The download and page rendering speed improvement feels impressive. It still does not feel as fast as Chrome but the difference is small enough not to bother me. I have not had more than one or two crashes over the first month and one of that was caused by a developer tools extension.

Talking of developer tools, this is the only area where Firefox falls short. It has all the features I am used to from Chrome but the whole experience feels sluggish especially when it comes to using the debugger. Sometimes a reloading and stopping on a breakpoint takes 10-20 seconds which is beyond my patience threshold. I also keep bumping into an annoying bug where “quick look” into variables sometimes shows undefined when there is definitely a value. Still, the features of developer tools perfectly meet my needs, the built-in Web Audio debugger is a nice extra I never discovered before.

One more thing. With the Quantum release Firefox deprecated the old extensions api which means from now on extensions have to be written using the new cross-browser Web Extensions standard (sans Safari). All but one of the Firefox extensions I use have been rewritten to the new format. The only thing that drove me mad is the Send to Kindle extension which Amazon did not bother to upgrade. I really do not see how a near trillion dollars worth company did not have the time and resources to fix their official extension…

Firefox mobile

Based on the success on desktop I installed Firefox on my iPhone too. Not that it makes a big difference on terms of browser engine, rather for going full-on with the Firefox journey.

No big complaints here, it does the job. The “readability mode” is slightly inferior to the one of Safari and I never know certain features are under the top “…” menu or the bottom hamburger one.

Firefox mobile actually comes in two separate editions the second being Firefox Focus (branded as Firefox Klar in German speaking countries) for enhanced privacy and ad blocking but I have not had time so far to form an opinion about it.

My future with Firefox

Looks like Firefox will remain my primary browser on all platforms for the foreseeable future. I have high hopes that Firefox will remain on the market, hopefully even gets stronger and Mozilla will not mess it up.