The Things I Will Need Before Abandoning Firefox08-14-2009 2:17 PM permalink
I should start by saying that Firefox has all but driven me away. I can no longer ignore the way the performance has continued to deteriorate with successive versions. I'm almost ready to switch to something else until they get their act together. But the fact is that, for me, what Firefox offers is really hard to beat.
So this is my list of must-haves before I'll consider using another browser setup on a regular basis. I'm a professional web developer, and like many people reading this, I'm also an internet junkie. So this isn't going to be the typical feature set.
High Performance and Responsiveness
And that's just my day job.
The fact is that for whatever reason, Firefox can't handle this level of activity anymore. It slows to a crawl. It eats my RAM like candy (and I have a lot of RAM). And on the days when I'm being particularly patient, it just calls it a day and crashes. Unacceptable.
Fortunately, Firefox has some real competition these days. Internet Explorer 8 isn't completey terrible. But I'm on a Mac, plus there's no way I would use it for web development. I've been using Safari 4 for the last week or so and it's zippy pretty much all the time. When I was a Windows guy, using Google Chrome was a joy. If they ever release a decent version for OS X, it'll definitely be in heavy rotation. Opera has always been one of the better performing contenders from what I hear. Firefox is easily beat in this category.
Web Developer Tools
- Edit in place: With Firebug I can inspect html and edit in place. I can see tweak things in real time instead of the usual edit-save-reload cycle. This goes for css too, which is really helpful.
- Full CSS view: Selecting a DOM element in Firebug shows the full cascade of css rules that apply to a given element rather than the truncated view in the Webkit console. It excludes inherited styles (e.g. default from the body element)
- Network Profiling: The Net view in Firebug is great for getting a real sense for how your page loads and what the pain points are. The Webkit console has a page load view, but it seems buggy and wrong a lot of times (reporting 0 byte files and 0 load times).
Add YSlow and other Firebug extensions this list and that's a lot to give up.
This section pretty much covers the rest of my gripes with other browsers. The greatest feature that Firefox brings to the table is that it is infinitely customizable. All of the features of Firefox that make it so indispensible were developed by third party developers. Over the last several years I've amassed a prodigious collection of add-ons that turn my firefox into exactly what I want it to be. My first couple of days trying to use Safari or Chrome, I could barely get anything done. I was missing the familiar environment that was tailored to my workflow. Here are my favorites features and add-ons:
- Firebug and extensions plus Web Developer mentioned above.
- It's All Text. Let me use emacs wherever possible.
- Tamper Data. Cause sometimes HTTP can be a PITA.
- Not to mention MeasureIt, Colorzilla, Pixel Perfect,...
I don't use all of these all the time. But when I need them, they make my life much easier. And when I don't have them, it makes me contemplate finding a new profession. I've been searching for replacements on the Mac and what I've found is that most of the good ones cost money. Yes, I've paid for a few I thought were good. But none of them are integrated into the browser very well.
- Bookmark keywords: This is actually built into Firefox and it may seem like a small thing. But Firefox lets you give any bookmark a keyword, which is more like an alias from the unix world. When you type the keyword into the address bar it replaces it with that bookmark. So for instance, to visit facebook I just type "fb". No clicking, no googling, I'm immediately there. And I never have to remember anything. "What's that long stupid url for our dev wiki?" Type "devwiki". Easy enough.
- OpenBook and XMarks. Combined with the above, I'm much better at managing links and navigating to my most frequent sites.
- Tab Mix Plus. Firefox has pretty decent defaults for getting navigating around and managing tabs. But after I got used to my TMP settings, it felt like things were broken whenever I didn't have them. Middle click on a tab to close it. Double click on a tab to duplicate it (including the history.) Middle click on the tabbar to re-open the last closed tab. If you aren't doing this, you are missing out. Firefox saves your closed tab history by default, but this makes it much more accessible.
- Better Gmail. Makes GMail... better. CustomizeGoogle. Makes the rest of the google products better.
- QuickRestart. This is handy when you need to restart Firefox. It used to be needed when you installed new add-ons. But they have long since added a convenience button to do that. Now it's useful when your Firefox has consumed all of your memory like some kind of black hole, and it needs to be restarted so you can keep working. The reason this is notable is because QuickRestart gives you a button that can be added to your toolbar. Just right-click and select Customize and you get a whole list of things that can be pulled onto the toolbar. Many other add-ons do this too, giving you very convenient access to their functionality. This is a clutch feature in my opinion.
Web Surfing and Social Media
- Shareaholic. A couple of clicks to share anything I want instantly on Reddit, Digg, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and 50 other sites I've never heard of. This is essential for minimizing my goofing off time.
- Search Cloudlet. Adds tag clouds of relevant keywords to Google searches and Twitter. I thought this was just a novelty at first, but it actually prompts you to add words to your searches that you may not have thought of. It can help refine your thoughts about what you're looking for.
- Xoopit for GMail. This add-on crawls your emails and pulls out all of the media, making it organized and searchable. You can see all the pictures or videos people have sent you in the last week, month or year. Maybe not very useful in general. But it is very cool to look over the entire history of the random stuff people wanted me to see over the years. That's how I found this nugget of joy.
Greasemonkey. This is probably the clincher. Userscripts.org has tons of scripts contributed by people who made the web work they wanted. I can't even use Facebook anymore without the Fixer. Many of the best add-ons started as greasemonkey scripts.
The bottom line is that in my version of Firefox, I can have things my way. I've been trying to get other browsers to behave for a while now, and it's not working out very well. So I guess it's back to slow performance, frequent crashes and even more frequent restarts. I'm pretty confident that Mozilla is working on fixing these issues. But they had better step things up. The latest build of Chromium for Mac looks better every day.