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How to Make Firefox Better

11.21.07 | Permalink | 3 Comments

Curious ChapI use three Mac OS browsers: Safari,

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Firefox, and Opera. And none is “perfect”. I used Firefox on the PC for at least a couple of years prior to switching to a Mac, so it was one of the first programs that I downloaded for Mac OS.

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I tried to use it as my main browser but was turned off by its non-Mac feel. Mozilla seems serious about giving Firefox a native look and feel on each platform, as evidenced by Alex Faaborg’s post,

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The Shape of Things to Come

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Firefox Look

The iconic look that the Mozilla te am

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is considering for Firefox 3.0 is brilliant: it gives Firefox a unique shape while using color to sport a native look. The following icons are of the Back and Forward buttons, with the Back button made larger because it is used so much more frequently:
Firefox 3.0 Back and Forward buttons
As pointed out by Leonardo Damian, the idea of a larger Back button is not Mozilla’s invention — it was introduced by one of the Longhorn ( Windows)

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builds. But still, the Mozilla icons have a unique and original iconic shape whereas Longhorn used just two

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circles, one larger than the other.

Firefox Feel

But what kept me away from using Firefox as my primary browser was not the look, but the feel.

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After all, I could have easily downloaded a Mac styled theme just as I did during my PC days.

See, I am a heavy keyboard user.

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I love my mouse but find using the keyboard a lot faster once I’ ve le arned

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a few shortcuts.

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When editing a text line, one of my favorite shortcuts on the Mac is using the Up arrow key to move the blinking cursor to the start of the line, and the Down arrow to move it to the end of line.

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And lest you think that this was done on purpose in order to list previously visited pages

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, press Cmd-F to use the Find feature: it doesn’t work there either.

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There are a few other keyboard shortcuts that could make a Mac user’s life easier if added, e.g. Shift-Cmd-] and Shift-Cmd-[ to move between tabs.

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These would be in addition to the existing Ctrl-Tab and Shift-Ctrl-Tab so that other users are not disrupted.

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These suggestions are trivial to implement but would make life easier for people like me who use more than one browser.

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BTW, stay away from the Firefox 3.0 Beta 1 that was released yesterday. It remembered all my bookmarks and browser history, but it couldn’ t open any previously visi

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ted page. I had to Force Quit the program. You will also not find the new icons described in Alex’s blog post.

You Had Me at Find!

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If I had to name the one feature that had me switching in a hurry from Internet Explorer to Firefox 1.0, it would be the Find in This Page feature. I liked that it was non-intrusive (no dialog coming in your face). And I loved the Highlight all feature. Safari 3.0 plays catch up; after using both browsers, I am still not sure which implementation I like better:

Find Feature in Safari and Firefox

It’s easier to spot found items in Safari initially; but clicking anywhere on the page removes

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the highlights. The implementation feels modal: you are either in find mode or you aren’t. On the other hand, it’s harder to spot the initial target in Firefox, but I find that the Highlight all feature flows better than in Safari.

Safari Isn’t Perfect Either

IMHO, Safari’s biggest weakness is its failure to save a list of opened web pages in case of a crash.

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To Apple’s credit, I have rarely had a crash in Safari 3.0.3 — they were much more frequent before, especially when it came to Ajax applications like FogBugz 5.0. But I’ve still had a crash or two. Fortunately, the nifty Saft utility remedies this.

Another gripe with Safari is its memory usage, in my case almost never less than 300MB of real memory!

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It’s just a browser, for Heaven’s sake.

Opera

As for Opera, it suffers from similar non-native feel on the Mac when using the keyboard.

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But more than that, it reminds me of the super nice guy that you cannot really say that there is anything wrong with him, but he doesn’t quite really fit in the circle of friends.

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Perhaps it’s because Opera uses the Qt cross platform toolkit (what does Firefox use?). Three years ago, I spent two full weeks carefully evaluating Qt versus wxWidgets for using it in our own software.

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I decided against Qt because of its use of n on-native c

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ontrols on Windows.

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And the find feature in Opera is so 1990s.

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