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Just a Thought - Foxy Firefox!

by - December 9th, 2004

Browsing For A Browser

Since it was first introduced, I've enjoyed using Safari, Apple's unique and entirely usable Web browser. What's not to enjoy? It's quick, looks great, and is lightweight; you can't ask for more from a Web browser.

Well...yeah, you can.

See, while Safari has been my default browser for some time now -I use it for 98% of my web-surfing- there are sites that, for one reason or another, it will not render. It is for those sites that I keep Internet Explorer (IE) around. It galls me to no end that I have to keep IE around, especially since Microsoft dropped upgrade support for the OS X version, which means that the IE we Mac users have will never have feature parity with the Windows version. (Not that there were a lot of great features to begin with, but that's another story.)

So, 99% of my Web browsing activity is centered on Safari and IE.

What about the final 1%, you ask? Well, from time to time I download one of the other available browsers to see how it compares to Safari. Until recently I'd been using Mozilla on rare occasions, and on even rarer occasions, OmniWeb; both are very competent browsers.

I recently downloaded and started checking out Firefox, and after about a week of comparing it with Safari and IE, I'm surprised to find that I have a new default browser. Surprised because, while I expected Firefox to mimic much of the goodness contained in Safari -which would have been interesting, but would not have been enough to get me to swap- I never expected it to be better than Safari, and to me it is in at least three very important aspects; speed, strange page rendering, cool features.

Boom! Deh It Is!

One of the things I've noticed about my venerable G4 Cube is that, after each update of OS X, things seem to take just a wee bit longer to happen than it use to. I've noticed this most in Safari.

I have 764MB of RAM in this box, and I use it for article writing, researching, and chatting. For those purposes, my Cube, which has a 1.5mbps DSL connection, is almost overkill. But, as I said, lately things have gotten a bit slower while I surf for information. When I click on a site in Safari, I can expect to wait anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds for the site to render. Not bad, especially since most sites render closer to the 5 seconds than the 15.

However. in my hardly-scientific site render test, in which I've compared the page render speeds of Firefox and Safari, Firefox literally throws up a Web page on my screen, while Safari leisurely paints it. For instance, The Mac Observer's main page takes about 8 seconds to completely render ( From the time you hit Reload button until the Reload button reappears.). It is pretty consistent. Firefox, on the other hand, shaves 2 seconds off Safari's time. It takes Safari 5 seconds to render Apple's main page, Firefox only needs 2 seconds. 2 seconds!!

And so it goes; a 2 second difference here, a 4 seconds difference there, but the net is that Firefox feels faster. Of course, the speed a page renders really depends on the a lot variables, but I've found the difference between Safari and Firefox to consistent and sizable.

Curses! Foiled Again!

As I mentioned earlier, I keep IE around because a very few sites either render poorly, or not at all in Safari, but they come up just fine in IE. I know this is partly due to lazy Web site creators who don't bother checking to make sure that what they create is accessible to everyone, not just Microsoft users. And it is partly to do with Big Redmond using non-standards in its backend applications, so databases, XML, and other supposedly standard run-time applications don't work with non-Microsoft browsers. It's enough to make you want to spit nails.

This became glaringly obvious this morning, when I tried to go to a page within's Web site; a new window appeared after I clicked a link that was suppose to have details of a web-only Thanksgiving sale on cameras, but the window remained blank. In fact all the sales links gave me blank windows.

I tried the links in IE and, sure enough, they rendered just fine. On a lark, I decided to try Firefox, and, you guessed it, it rendered fine as well.

My guess is that the Firefox developers took into account some of Microsoft's latest software releases so Firefox is more compatible with Microsoft based Web sites. I would imagine that Safari will also take these changes into account with its next upgrade, so these 2 browsers will likely have some parity it their ability to render Microsoft sites.

At the moment, however, Firefox will render what Safari won't.


When Safari first came out, one feature that I, and many Apple users enjoyed was its ability to block pop-ups. Just click an option, and no more pop-ups. Who woulda thought that there may be times and sites where allowing pop-ups are necessary?

On certain sites I go to, accessible on by user ID and password, there are pages which use pop-ups to allow additional input, or offer information. When I visit these sites in Safari I usually get frustrated when I get no response from a link or button I've just pressed, until I remember that the link may produce a pop-up. I then have to turn off Safari's pop-up blocker.

Firefox has a more intelligent pop-up blocker; when you go to a site that has pop-ups for the first time Firefox asks you if you wish to allow or deny pop-ups from that site. You can also edit the list of site that Firefox will allow pop-ups from. This feature was available in Mozilla, but in Firefox, it seems much nicer, and seems to intrude in your browsing experience as little as possible.

Again, this is a feature I believe Safari will likely sport in its next iteration, but for now, Firefox has it.

There are other features in Firefox that make it worth looking at seriously. In the PC world, Firefox is becoming a strong competitor to IE, which I believe is a good thing because Web page developer will be more likely to consider compatibility with other browser when producing their pages.

And it is always good to remind the Gates Gang that they are not the only game in town.

I'm sure that Apple is updating Safari even as I write this, and the next version will be every bit as good, or better than Firefox; until then, for me, it's Firefox by default.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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