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by adam mathes
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Mozilla Revisited

I’ve been disparaging Mozilla for years. Literally. [Exhibit A, B]

I think the project made many, many mistakes.

But for once, I’m going to say nice things about Mozilla. I’m going to put all my past differences with Mozilla aside and praise it.

Not Mozilla exactly, but Firefox. Firefox is, finally, a viable replacement for Microsoft Internet Explorer. In many instances, it’s better. In terms of security, control over user experience (tweaking what javascript can and can not do,) extensibility and in other areas, Firefox is far superior.

It still has the unfortunate disadvantage of not having a completely native interface, but the interface is infinitely better than those horrible Mozilla releases I tried and discarded over the years.

Firefox 0.8 is stable enough, has a good enough rendering engine, and enough features to replace Internet Explorer as my standard browser now. It is easy enough that I can recommend it to my mom. (I have, she really likes it, especially the icon.)

The scaled down feature-set has 95% of what I want in a browser. In a few small areas, plugins fill the gap. One of the weakest areas in Firefox right now is plugin uninstallation. (They install just fine, but removing them can involve editing XML configuration files, not a reasonable routine for most end users.) But I can recommend:

  • Bookmarks Synchronizer - automatically upload and download your bookmarks via FTP to keep them synchronized across machines
  • Paste and Go - Klara exposed me to Opera's similarly named feature and I went, 'oh, neat! I bet Firefox can do this too!' And it can. Only saves a few keystrokes, but makes things feel faster
  • Cute Menus - this adds icons to right click menus. CUTE IS GOOD.
  • Spell Checker - this explains how to get spell check working in Firefox. (It's still difficult, but it works for me and I think it will get better.)

I haven’t been following the project, so I can’t entirely explain what happened to make Firefox succeed where Mozilla failed. And certainly part of it is just time, and part of it is that I’m on a faster machine than in 2000 and am less worried about performance. But primarily, I think, it was the decision to make Firefox into a software product, specifically a browser. Not a development platform for rich-client networked applications, not a communications suite with calendaring and IMAP support for email, but a browser. Having a distinct, defined, clear purpose can make all the difference.

(That was a segue. I’m going to get back to disparaging things tomorrow. Or whenever it is I write the next entry. And by the next entry, I mean specifically the next entries that are about some interesting design problems.)

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