Thursday, July 06, 2006

Tech: Why I prefer Firefox to Internet Explorer

Firefox is, of course, the current contender for knocking Internet Explorer off its perch. Browser wars are healthy, since browsers are and will be our key application for mediating the internet, and increasingly complex functionality will be needed.

Since Internet Explorer annihilated Netscape (chiefly through Microsoft's market domination in other areas), there have been pretenders, but nothing close to Firefox - which is, in essence, a reborn Netscape.

1) Browsing naturally
In so many ways, I found that Firefox is so much more in tune with my browsing patterns. For example, links in emails always onen in new pages. And: when I click on a link, I usually want to peruse after I've finished the main page, and the tab opens behind the page I'm reading - far less obtrusive. Particularly useful for Google, where I don't know which page contains the best answer, and I want to explore several pages.

2) Tabs
With Firefox, you can open a link in a new window, or in a new tab within the same window. You can thus keep like pages grouped together.

3) It's Open Source
As we've seen with Open Source tools, people volunteer improvements, and once a critical mass is reached, the paradigm is more powerful than a for-profit corporate development.

4) The extensions
People have written numerous extensions for it that expand its utilities in so many ways. I'm trying to keep my set small, but some of what I have at the moment are:

5) NoScript extension
Bans scripts unless I add a page/site to a "whitelist". Gee, that makes me feel safer. You can do this globally in IE, but the whitelisting feature here is so easy to use.

6) IE tab extension
This allows you to open a tab within Firefox using the Internet Explorer extension. Why would you want to do this? Occasionally useful - see my recent entry on Google Maps, right.

7) Adblock Plus and Flashblock extensions
Allow me to block ads and Flash features, unless I okay them. Gee those Flash ads can get annoying. My viewing is a lot calmer now.

8) Sessionsaver extension
If I want pages open when I next open Firefox, I simply shutdown with those pages left open. All restored together when I next start Firefox. (several standard sites are essential for me, such as Google, Wikipedia, and this blog site.)

9) GooglePreview extension
Gives a thumbnail of the web page within the Google results. Surprisingly helpful.

There are some down sides to the above. Blocking Flash and scripts means you sometimes need to go "doh! I need to re-enable for this site". Small bikkies, though, in return for making my work safer, easier, more pleasant and more productive.

Also, there will remain some aspects of IE not reproduced by Firefox (such as proprietary features). However, Firefox conforms to W3 Consortium standards, while Microsoft doesn't. The latter is gambling that its monopoly muscle is big enough to do this, but I'm happy to gamble against them here; I believe a critical mass has been reached.

And you can expect Internet Explorer to try to implement the best of Firefox - I know, for example, that those tabs are coming. But I see no compelling reason to change back. How can Microsoft match the dynamism of a keen open source community?

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