campaul [dot] net

Because I have opinions and Internet access.

Why I'm Switching (Back) to Firefox

By September 2008 I was starting to get a little annoyed with Firefox. It had been my browser of choice for years, but the wonder of the open source world was beginning to disappoint me. I had been running the beta version of Firefox 3 since the first day it was available and the entire time all I could think about was how bloated and slow it was. I’ve always been a proponent of minimalism in design and Firefox was quickly becoming anything but minimal.

Then something happened that I was not expecting. Google announced it would be releasing a browser. I was soon greeted with what at the time seemed like the most amazing piece of software I had ever seen. Google Chrome introduced an amazingly clean and polished browsing experience backed by WebKit. Finally I could have the speed of Safari with a user interface that actually made sense. As time went on things just got better. The developer tools in WebKit became more powerful than Firebug and with the release of V8 Google redefined how we think about JavaScript performance.

Now it’s five years later and things aren’t so great. More than ever I’m having issues with general slowness in the browser. Memory usage is off the charts and I frequently have tabs become completely unresponsive. Moreover there seems to be a general lack of QA these days. The “disable cache” checkbox in the developer tools seems to do nothing and JavaScript errors occasionally disappear into the void instead of logging to the console. Chrome is starting to feel a lot like Firefox did in 2008.

Now back to Firefox. It’s been five years since I’ve used Mozilla’s browser for anything more than a quick check to make sure a web page I’m building renders correctly. In that time I failed to notice the work that was being done. Firefox got fast. Side by side with Chrome I’m seeing pages render visibly faster. SpiderMonkey seems to have caught up to V8 as well. My own (non-scientific) testing showed V8 as still being slightly faster, but the difference was too small to be perceived by humans.

Then there are the developer tools. The WebKit developer tools still have a few features not present in Firefox, but for 95% of what I do the tools in Firefox are actually better. In the inspector higher contrasting colors and vertical rhythm make it much easier for the eye to trace over the wall of text that is the unrendered DOM. On the page, selected elements are outlined with a subtle but easily visible dotted line instead of a page obscuring blue box. There is also a select on hover mode that allows me to very quickly move through components on the page until I land on the one I want. The Firefox developer tools not only feel better, but also save me time selecting and manipulating elements on the page.

Technical issues aside, there’s something else that’s been in the back of my mind for a while now. I honestly believe Mozilla is committed to freedom and privacy on the web. Google is committed to making money and knowing everything I do. Firefox greets me with a page explaining my rights as a user of open source software. Chrome greets me with… sigh… Chrome greets me with a fucking advertisement for a Chromebook.

Right now I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. Firefox today reminds me of Firefox when I first discovered it. Mozilla has once again delivered a technically superior product while completely respecting my rights as a user. Firefox is freedom.