January 19th, 2016
I’ve been using Mozilla Firefox since version 0.9 way back in the prehistoric era of 2004. Back then Internet Explorer 5 was by far the dominant web browser, and I admit I was just keen to buck the trend. But it quickly became clear that supporting alternative browsers was (and is) healthy for the growing Web. It’s still my opinion that the Web would not be the thing it is today if not for Firefox and the developments and standards it allowed.
I’ve dabbled with the Google Chrome, and as a web developer I need to keep copies of other web browsers around. But why have I come back to Firefox again and again, and why do I stay?
Web Browser Speed
Firefox comes out middle of the pack when it comes to straightforward things like opening up the program and loading a dozen tabs. But in practice I’ve found other browsers regularly hang for several seconds when loading. Internet Explorer 11 does this for me even on a blazingly fast PC with an SSD. Similarly, Google Chrome, on whichever computer I use it, slows to a crawl when opening new pages.
It’s not consistent, and I don’t know the reasons for these slow-downs, but Mozilla Firefox for me is well behaved. Your mileage may vary. Speed depends on how you use a web browser, how your PC is set up and maintained, and how many other bits of software link into it. However, in everyday use I find Firefox works best for me.
Firefox and Internet Explorer call them add-ons, Chrome calls them Extensions. They are small pieces of extra software which you can add to your web browser to give it more functions. For example, you can add a button which makes it easy to share a page on Facebook with a couple of clicks, or get a GMail notification icon.
Firefox has long been the leader in this field. Although Chrome has hundreds of Extensions to choose from, Firefox probably has the greater number, and the most useful for me in my everyday Web work. I use the Web Developer Toolbar for checking my websites, and buttons for services like Pocket, Hootsuite and Diigo. These all help me to keep track of useful and interesting pages online, or share them with friends.
Mozilla is not an advertising company
Adverts are the bane of the web. No one (myself included) has found a better way to support article-based websites, but at the same time they’re easy to block. To maximise their effectiveness, advertising companies have resorted to tracking you when you browse. This has led people into various forms of trouble, not to mention the ethical question of how much the user knows they’re being tracked.
It’s good to keep in mind that Google is not a search engine company any longer. It’s an advertising company which use search engine results pages and a hundred other tools to help them serve better ads. Microsoft too, now that the writing is on the wall for Windows and Office income, is turning to subscriptions and advertising. Both companies want to track what you’re doing, and have certain motives about what they ultimately would like you to do. In Google’s case it’s click on adverts, in Microsoft’s it’s signing up to an Office 365 subscription or a OneDrive online storage programme.
Mozilla is a non-profit organisation dedicated to producing Firefox (and, previously, the Thunderbird email program). It’s aims are to improve access to the World Wide Web and promote Web standards, which are ultimately good for the user. That may sound a bit precious or pretentious, but would you rather have a browser built by a browser company, or one which was intent on tracking you and leading you to where it wanted to send you?
Privacy and security
There are specialist privacy-boosting web browsers out there like Tor and Epic Privacy Browser, but when it comes to mainstream browsing I prefer Firefox. Again this is due to the links the other two browsers, Internet Explorer and Chrome, have with their parent companies. But it’s also due to the add-ons available for Firefox, which can block adverts and cookies, or at least monitor what information is being collected as you go around the Web.
Adblock Plus, Lightbeam and View Cookies are just some of the add-ons available for Firefox (Adblock is also available for the Chrome browser) with which I check on what things are tracking me, and minimise those things at the same time.
Firefox’s Tracking Protection is another powerful tool, this time built in to the browser itself and turned off by default. I’ve been using it for only a few days so far, but I like it! It’s almost too powerful, disabling some useful functionality on sites. But this just reminds me of how central tracking is to the Web experience these days, and I can survive without a few Facebook Like buttons here and there.
Mozilla Firefox remains my favourite browser
I’ll not deny that Mozilla may stumble now and again when it comes to building software for the World Wide Web. I think they gave up on their Firefox OS too soon, and I know that vulnerabilities exist in the code of Firefox itself.
However, this will always be the case with all software, not to mention all other web browsers, and I trust Mozilla to try and squash these bugs as soon as they can. I feel like Mozilla’s aiming in the same direction as its users, and has the same concerns. Perhaps another company will come along at some point and change my mind, or take over the mantle from Mozilla. But until that day, their approach to security, privacy and the user experience, and the wealth of add-ons which take my browsing further, I remain a loyal Mozilla Firefox fan.