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Living Without Safari Week 1: Firefox

Living Without Safari Week 1: Firefox

by , 2:00 PM EST, March 7th, 2007

Shortly after Apple introduced its Safari Web browser, I switched - primarily because Internet Explorer for the Mac flat-out sucked. I use several other browsers, but my day-in, day-out work horse is still Safari. But just because that's my browser of choice, it doesn't necessarily mean it's the best option.

I've already written reviews for Firefox and OmniWeb, but testing, poking and prodding a browser for a review is one thing. Relying on it as your only interface to the Internet is something else entirely. To that end, I decided to totally immerse myself in several alternatives to Safari just to see how they really work for me.

Here are my self imposed ground rules:

  • Each browser I live in must be the most recent version. Beta and pre-release software doesn't count.
  • No plug-ins, hacks, extensions, or any other add-on that enhances or modifies the browsers are allowed. Each browser will be tested based only on its stock features.
  • No launching Safari "just to check this one page." Living in a single browser is non-negotiable.
  • Safari can be launched if necessary to transfer bookmarks to another browser.
  • No cheating. But whining is allowed.

The Web browsers on my list include Firefox, OmniWeb, and Opera. I selected those browsers because they are all relatively familiar to a good cross section of Mac users.

Week 1: Firefox
I started with Firefox because it is the second most popular Web browser. First place goes to Microsoft's Windows-only Internet Explorer. This Web browser is open source, cross-platform, and free.

Mozilla Firefox

Impressions Firefox offers a couple of features that are important to me, and are pretty much standard fare for modern Web browsers: Pop-up blocking and tabbed browsing. The overall interface, however, felt more and more clunky as the week went on.

I'm a big fan of keyboard shortcuts because they let me keep my hands on my keyboard instead of pulling me away to my mouse/trackball/graphics tablet when it is inconvenient for me. Translation: Keyboard shortcuts help me work faster and more efficiently.

The problem I found with Firefox is that even though there are plenty of keyboard shortcuts, it almost feels as if they are compartmentalized so that you have to use your mouse to click on an item before the associated shortcuts will work. For example, I couldn't move through browser tabs from my keyboard before first clicking on a tab with my mouse.

This didn't feel like a big issue to me when I reviewed Firefox, but it really slowed me down. It felt as if it took more mouse clicks to perform the same actions than it does in Safari.

Rendering times for Web pages were perfectly acceptable, bookmarks were easy to work with, and the browser never crashed on me. Hooray for stability!

Overall performance, on the other hand, was a different story. Processor usage for Firefox rarely dropped below 20 percent, and regularly shot up over 80 percent. Patience being a virtue, I felt very virtuous while waiting for my Mac to recover from those kidney punches to system performance.

I didn't come across a single Web page that Firefox couldn't handle, which is more than I can say for Safari. Although Safari 2.0.4 is leaps and bounds better than earlier versions, I still occasionally get Web pages that render incorrectly, or won't even load at all.

The light gray default web page buttons and ultra-subtle edges on form fields were a bit of a problem for me, as well. The default buttons only on an aesthetic level - they look so 1998. The field edges, however, sometimes made it super difficult to actually find the fields.

One last issue: I found what appears to be a redraw bug in Firefox. Sometimes when I clicked on a Firefox window to bring it to the foreground, its window scroll bar did not turn blue - my primary indicator that a window is active.

Movable tabs, über customization and extensibility, a world full of developers working on the app - these are all killer features in my book, and they are all rolled into the Firefox package. Add in superior Web site compatibility, and you have all the fixings for a powerhouse winner of a Web browser. I can see why this is the browser of choice for so many people.

The Verdict Despite my complaints, I am really impressed with the overall quality of Firefox. It just doesn't fit my day-to-day workflow. This is a Web browser designed by a world-wide committee of developers - which is great - but the platform agnostic approach has left it without that fluid feeling well designed Mac applications have.

Firefox maintains an honorable position in my Web browser arsenal, and I will always call it to duty when I come across those rare pages that Safari can't handle.

Next week: OmniWeb

Interested in the other Web browsers in the Living Without Safari series? Here you go:


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