What is it about FireFox that makes it so good? Could it be the fact that among the top browsers it is the best at supporting W3C standards (Web Browser Standards Support Summary) . Is it the fact that they constantly add minor new features that always seem to boost my productivity of make it so much easier to do things on the web. Or maybe its their constant respect for the developer or the power user through extensions development and standards support.
Whatever it is, one thing is clear FireFox 2 has won this round of the new browser war. I user FF2 far more then IE7 during the time I have been running them both (all through RC stages). I am considerably impressed. You can all be in awe of the new Microsoft Internet Explorer, but I am in awe of FireFox. They went and took something that was for the most part a perfect browser, my opinion, and somehow made it better, without changing anything major. About the only complaint I have come across is that a few people don’t seem to like having the close tab button on the tab itself. I also read one article that despite the fact that FireFox won out in every major category (except a couple) the author wanted to stay with IE because it looked prettier. As for me, my only complaint is a annoying bug that causes my page to jump to the top when I click on a link, this forces me to either hit “Enter” to follow the link, or scroll back to the link and click it again. I have no idea why this wasn’t fixed, maybe I am the only one experiencing it.
One of the things FireFox 2 did was allow for the tabs to flow off screen and provide a small control to move side to side along the tab bar, this makes it difficult to have the global tab close, as was available in previous versions. I have only seen this in action a couple of times as I don’t generally have that many windows open (only on a big news day). This is a decision that has some in the community raising an eyebrow, because it is different from what we are used too. Since the invention of tabbed browsing, we have again seen the rise of, what I call, the overzealous Internet user.
We have seen it before, people who don’t seem to ever want to close a window, for fear of “losing” information. Clearly, they don’t understand bookmarks. But I know people who will not only have 10 tabs open at a time, but will never close their browser. These are the same people who would have a list of 20 or so Internet Explorer instances in their taskbar. With tabs it becomes trickier because the idea of tabbed programming is to have a single window contain the entire browsing experience. To counter this, very often we truncate parts of the tabs title to allow others to fit. While FireFox 2 does do this, it also allows for the tabs to flow off the screen. This is one way to solve this problem. I, however, prefer IE7 way of doing this, which is reminiscent of Mac OSX of showing thumbnails of all open tabs. But this is one of the few area where IE7 beats FireFox.
I will admit a few of the new features, such as the afore mentioned method of being able to see thumbnails of all open pages, are cool, but FireFox now has an inline spell checker, a necessity for programmers 🙂 I have spent a lot of time in both programs, and comparatively from the users perspective, they are just about even. Notice, though I am describing usability and not including features in this statement. We have to remember that IE STILL uses Notepad for the display of source code. I have always loved the color coded syntax viewer I get with FireFox, though I guess the argument could be made: how many of the “normal” people ever look at web page source code.
However, FireFox has always had one feature that I have found incredibly useful: Find. Its not a popup dialog that appears on the screen, its a small extension of the status bar appearing near the bottom. I have always loved this feature. With Opera and IE I still get a dialog that I have to constantly reopen if I am using the keyboard. I use the keyboard ALOT and I hate clicking. So clicking on “Find Next” is, to me, a waste of time. With FireFox I hit Ctrl-F and type in and then just hit “Enter” to go through all the matches on the page. I love this feature. Anything that makes me have to use my mouse less is always a good feature in my book.
There is also the feature that is heavily touted by Mozilla, and you will hear about it in any review worth anything. With the advent of Ajax, we, as developers, have more ways to help users find the information they are looking for. Yahoo and Google have devised the Auto Suggest mechanism where the search string entered by the user is compared against a list of common search phrases to help the user figure out what they are searching for. Previous this was only available in browsers with a plugin and often was based on what the user had search for previously (this is Auto Complete actually). What FireFox 2 does is quite different as it uses a list served from Google/Yahoo to make this comparison. This coupled with their inline searching that even IE has now, makes finding what you want in FireFox that much easier. Just type in part of a phrase and Firefox will query Google (or Yahoo) for suggestions, this, of course, only works with those two search engines.
However, IE7 is still part of Windows, and Windows is still hated by a lot of people. So I have little doubt that someone will not find a way to circumvent the protection. The question of whether FireFox 2 is any safe is not an easy question. FireFox 1 has shown that it has its share of problems, in fact, to my knowledge, I patched FF more often the IE in the last year. Of course, this could also be due to Microsoft’s lack of caring about IE6 as they developed IE7, but this is speculation at best on my part.
In the end, FireFox, to me, is the better browser, and the browser that I will charge with handling the majority of my browsing. I think the current war is a good war and I think it will help spur innovation and development of IE by Microsoft. And since IE still holds around 80% of the market, this will be good for developers as the popularity of FireFox continues to rise we can see one of two conclusions happening: 1) FireFox eclipses IE7 as the #1 browser an we can program for a browser that best supports the standards, 2) IE7 becomes the better browser and more widely supports standards, in which case we can program to either and have our pages come out alright. To me, either case is acceptable as either case will make my life easier. But one thing is for sure, I am an FF user for life.