Friday, July 03, 2009

Why Do I Keep Using Firefox?

Firefox drives me nuts. I’m starting this blog entry after yet another crash. Why did Firefox crash? I tried to load a page. One web page. Seth Godin’s blog. And Firefox crashed. Why do I continue to subject myself to this kind of instability?

Honestly, because as much as Firefox raises my blood pressure, there are a few things it can do that other browsers can’t match.

  • It’s not Internet Explorer

OK, cheap shot. Lots of browsers aren’t Internet Explorer. I can’t figure out what the point to Internet Explorer is. It’s slow, it’s painful, it’s bloated, and it always seems to be about 5 years behind the others. OK, it came out with In Private browsing (often called “porn mode”) before Firefox officially got it, but the Distrust extension for Firefox has been around for years so it’s not a big deal. I can’t stand Internet Explorer. I’ve tried IE8, which really isn’t that much improved over IE7.Give it up, Microsoft. You can’t write a browser, and you can’t do a search engine. Oh, yeah, Windows Mobile sucks. I’m sure the Zune does too, but I’m not going to spend money to find that out first-hand. If Windows Mobile sucks and Windows Media Player sucks, then surely the Zune has to suck as well.

  • Extensions

This is the real magic of Firefox. It’s also one of the biggest pains. Rather than leave it up to the developer to come up with features, anybody can write an extension for Firefox and distribute it. Some brilliant and imaginative individuals have come out with all kinds of extensions for Firefox. Some of them were so good they were incorporated into the browser itself. One of the reasons I haven’t switched entirely to Google’s Chrome browser or even Opera is because I’ve become attached to some extensions that I can’t live without.

Of course, the drawback is that some extensions become vaporware. That is, they simply drop off the face of the Earth, never to be updated again. One of my all-time favorite extensions, Tab Mix Plus, went this way. Whenever Firefox updates, most extensions must update as well. If they don’t update, they aren’t going to work with the next version of Firefox. I’m not sure what changes in Firefox to make the extensions become obsolete. I’m going to be ticked if I find out that it’s as simple as changing a line of code that says “Works with Firefox x.x”.

  • Background loading

I love this. If I’m working in Outlook or Tweetdeck and I click a link, Firefox will load it without having to steal focus. I have a habit of clicking a bunch of links in another application and then dealing with them later. Firefox is up to this task. Any other browser will automatically come to the forefront every time you click an link in another application. That drives me nuts, because I then have to switch back to that other application to finish what I was doing. As I remember, this feature used to be part of an extension (maybe the great Tab Mix Plus) but is now apparently a feature of the browser itself.

  • Session Manager

Another habit I have is to load a page in a tab and keep it there. Firefox’s session manager never skips a beat. OK, it does every now and again. Usually when I have 30-50 tabs open it likes to lose them all. For the most part though, I can open a tab in Firefox and leave it there for months. My computer can crash and reboot, and that tab will be waiting for me when I decide to deal with it. I love it. The only other browser that I’ve found to come close to this level of reliability is Opera. I would probably use Safari on Windows if Apple incorporated a session manager. Safari on Apple and on the iPhone is about this reliable.

This is why, despite all of my complaining on Twitter about Firefox, I can’t quite get away from it.

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