abstract musings

abstract (adj.): Considered apart from concrete existence: an abstract concept.
musings (n.): A product of contemplation; a thought.


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Thursday, December 16, 2004

Firefox and the Blogosphere

From Instapundit, I came across a post by Colby Cosh about Firefox, the recently released browser from the Mozilla Organization and its representation among the readers of the blogosphere.

The latest public independent data show Firefox's share of the browser market growing fast--from 3% to 4% between November and December. (Þ: Taylor.) Is this surprising news? It is to this Firefox convert, not because 4% seems like a lot, but because my own browser-share figures have had Firefox running in double digits for some months now. Check out the browser-share numbers at Instapundit, which should be similar (they vary from hour to hour). It seems like Firefox users are overrepresented amongst people who read weblogs, who may be relatively savvy and Internet-immersed. Internet Explorer, of course, can last a long time as the Browser for People Who Don't Know Any Better. (AOL, which occupies a similar position amongst ISPs, is still chugging along.) But Microsoft must at least be a little bit unnerved about all this.

Judging by this story, at least publicly, Microsoft seems to consider Firefox a nuisance more than a threat.

His post then prompted a response from a web developer, who's over the hype surrounding Firefox.

I think I've brought this up before, but there's nothing "light years ahead" about Firefox. It's just Mozilla with a precious logo and some browbeating marketing behind it. It's perfectly fine for standard web browsing, but what isn't these days? The browser reached functional maturity years ago and all that has been done since then is feature twiddling and graphical polish. I find Firefox easy to develop for, but serious stuff – anything really complicated – is still easier in IE.

Oh, and here's the serious footwork Microsoft would have to do to "catch up":

  1. Put the Explorer control in a tabbed shell

The end. Well by god I don't know if the boys in Redmond are capable.

Apparently, it's not that easy:

For architectural reasons, it turns out you can't just add tabs via an add-on into the IE app itself. You can get tabs by running a different app like those other browsers that build on the IE platform, so it's a nice option for people.

We've looked at whether you can add tabs through a browser helper object or some other way of extending IE, and it turns out you can't. Then of course the Web developer stuff is also that core platform changes and wouldn't be deemed an add-on. The challenge there, as we have been kind of public on our blogs when discussing with Web developers, is backward compatibility.

Now, I would agree that some of the hype for Firefox is overblown, but I really do think that it is a better browser for me for a number of reasons:

  1. Tabbed Browsing: I love this feature, and I find that when I am forced to use a browser that doesn't have it (Internet Explorer) that I miss it and quickly become frustrated by not having it, but if, like the developer I quoted above, you don't like it then fine. There are other reasons for me that make Firefox superior to IE.
  2. Security: Just removing ActiveX makes Firefox more secure. Does it lose some functionality? Sure, but nothing that I have not been able to live without, and if I really want to see some ActiveX widget, then I can always use IE to view it. And I am not really crazy about a browser component having system level access to my operating system, anyway. One point in Microsoft's favor on this issue is the inclusion of an ActiveX blocker in the latest enhancements to IE included with Windows XP Service Pack 2. But to get those security enhancements, if you aren't using Windows XP, it's going to cost you.
  3. Live Bookmarks: This useful innovation has changed the way I read blogs. Basically, a live bookmark is a bookmark (in IE, that is a favorite) which contains the current headlines from a weblog's RSS or Atom feeds. I find this to be a handy way for me to quickly scan the headlines on many weblogs. I really hadn't found an RSS reader which I liked, but when this was introduced, once I started to use it, I found it positively changed the way I read blogs. Suddenly, syndication feeds were much more useful to me.
  4. Web Standards: I admit that this is an esoteric reason for most of the general public, but to web developers it is a big deal. When Internet Explorer 4 came out, I switched from Netscape 4 because developing for IE was easier and it supported more of the standards that had been established at the time for web development. But Microsoft has not kept pace with the industry in this regard, so when the original Mozilla browser was released, I switched and I started using Firefox when version 0.2 was released. I haven't looked back. Unfortunately, IE is the market leader and so I have to conform my work to it and all of its quirks, just as I had to conform my work to Netscape Navigator's quirks when it was heavily used on campus.

Not to be too hard on Microsoft, I do believe that the programmers who develop IE want to make it more secure and improve its standards support, but are hamstrung to a certain degree by keeping updates to the browser backwards-compatible. And they are looking for feedback about IE, and if you truly do like IE then by all means use it. But don't try to sell me on the line that it is as good as other browsers because for me the evidence points elsewhere.

UPDATE: Uh-oh! More hype for Firefox now that the New York Times has run an ad for Firefox. I have posted before on the Firefox ad campaign.