After a discussion on the Mozilla marketing list, I received several requests to repost to my blog my thoughts about why I feel Firefox is still the best browser for users. I have mixed feelings about doing this, but only because of course, of course, I am somewhat biased and secondly, this is hardly an authoritative account, both in terms of breadth and depth.
But I do profoundly believe that Firefox is the best browser for a user for a number of reasons, even in 2011 when we see some very large organisations making some very large investments in browser development. Anyway, if you’re looking for some talking points, here’s my pitch on why I, hand-on-heart, prefer Firefox. Thanks to Danishka for posing the question. Mozilla.com is of course, much more authoritative on the topic.
Security & Privacy
It’s hard to speak to the security topic on IE9 given that you often tend to see problems retrospectively in closed browsers. IE’s track record certainly doesn’t seem so stellar. And personally, I do not find their
independent research on “socially engineered malware” all that credible (nor do Opera and Google, from what I read) .
Firefox and Chrome use a lot of the same back-end for anti-malware and anti-phishing, but Mozilla has clearly offered a vision on privacy and Firefox has a very impressive selection of customisations for enhanced privacy and security today.
Chrome’s privacy approach is reliant upon customisation at the moment, and IE’s “tracking protection lists” appear somewhat vulnerable to gaming.
This topic has partially defined the browser market for a long time: but right now, all modern browsers seem very, very fast. They all win on some benchmark, and in the “real world”, which browser is fastest appears to depend on which website you use. I’d argue no browser is currently outstanding in this area, although I would acknowledge that Firefox is not that fastest on the one-off activity of starting up. It’s still very fast though…
The user interface in Firefox 4 is “minimalist” in the same way IE9’s is, Chrome is, etc. but what’s important to me is that we haven’t just chopped menus off and hidden them (which seems like a fair description
of what happened in IE9). Rather, the UI is still very intuitive and contains features such as switch-to-tab, pinned tabs (which does have an equivalent in Chrome and IE) and tab groups that help the user manage
One obvious gap that’s often cited is the lack of a “new tab” page in Firefox: but the blank screen is intentional as the browser gets of the way of the user and doesn’t distract them in their workflow. It’s hard to quantify the impact of that, but I’m aware of how distracting technology can be. It possibly takes a browser without an agenda beyond that of the user to really and truly get out of the way.
Firefox 4’s interface is in fact still very customisable (Alex Limi’s blog on the Fx 4 UI is a great reference ) in a
way that IE and Chrome simply are not.
I’d argue that Firefox still leads customisation broadly – although Chrome may quote a higher number of extensions, it’s worth bearing in mind :
- questionable levels of curation in the Chrome add-on collection, some of the add-ons I’ve used are very disappointing (e.g. they open a pop-up window for a page on an expired domain…)
- Chrome add-ons are similar to Jet-Pack add-ons in terms of functionality supported. Firefox offers that plus much richer, deeper customisation options
- Firefox has a very strong tradition of user-generated customisation, including the Personas gallery.
And Firefox 4 has a new add-on manager which makes customisation of Firefox also much easier and restartless add-ons.
Lastly, Firefox Sync is both more secure and more useful that the equivalent in Chrome (and there is no “native” solution for IE, as Microsoft would say). Firefox Sync is fully encrypted on the client side and allows you to
open tabs up across instances of Firefox. If you use more than one instance of Firefox, this is incredibly useful!
Clearly, the market is much more competitive than it was 1, 2 or 6 years ago – and clearly there are many topics (especially platform support) that I didn’t go into here. But I feel that the quality and philosophy behind Firefox still make it the best choice for users. And if you’re a Windows XP user (and most people on the Web are), there are much, much better options available to you than Internet Explorer.