Hey Firefox Make Me Recommend You

I love Firefox. It is my primary browser and I don’t feel at home using another browser. I want to use Firefox to browse the web because Mozilla has always taken the high road when tackling issues of web openness and standardization. HTML5 wouldn’t have been possible without the vision that Mozilla and Opera pushed through WHATWG and I am really grateful for such diligence. I also use some extensions that have made the web work for me and I don’t seem to find these features implemented on other browsers to my liking. Last but not least, I will only use an open source browser for the fact that an actively developed open environment is less likely to contain defects that allow malicious remote access to my machine.

All that said, I’ve had a hard time recommending Firefox to my relatives. I am by far the geekiest person in my family tree. Hardly do I come across someone in my personal life who cares about the browser itself. Most of my friends and acquaintances are Internet Explorer users who have no less than three toolbars already. Because of that I want them to move off of Internet Explorer and onto Firefox instead. Contrary to my aspirations I don’t see myself recommending Firefox to anyone. I always make them install Google Chrome or install it for them myself. Here are my reasons for that:

  1. Google Chrome auto updates. This is the biggest concern when trying to recommend a browser to my non-geek friends and relatives. I cannot rely on them to update and they have an affinity to dismiss any update window. Manual updates are a doctrine that only I seem to believe in. Everybody else doesn’t want it since the system already works. Their facebook is fine.
  2. Google Chrome blocks invasive add-ons. Them add-ons, you can’t live with’em and you can’t live without’em. I love add-ons. But all my social graph have spyware instead. It just floats onto their systems and I’m totally incapable of preempting their installation. The reason behind this is that the knowledge threshold for understanding malware is higher than that of the average user. I get to see these disasters only when facebook doesn’t work.
  3. Google Chrome is easy to use. There are no training wheels on the Google Chrome bicycle but boy is it really easy to ride. This is probably the result of Google starting with a clean slate and adding user interface elements only if needed. Surprisingly though, there isn’t much difference between browsing interfaces of all major browsers, but the effect is still felt by every non-geek who compares Chrome and Firefox.

It saddens me every time I recommend Google Chrome and not Firefox to the people I know. I try to explain that I use Firefox and install it for them, but they easily go back to Internet Explorer and don’t care about the consequences. Their indifference to risk and lack of understanding of how they are jeopardizing themselves is the primary reason I push them towards Chrome. After all, all I want is that they have a properly patched system.

On a positive note, Firefox seems to be getting silent auto updates, also known as Electrolysis, sometime in the future. The capability of plugins and extensions to overtake Firefox is somewhat mitigated by asking the user whether to allow a plugin or extension to install or not. Australis is getting better at usability but somewhat slowly. Maturing a new UI and design paradigm is paramount but time is always of the essence. Hurry up Mozilla.

Firefox Panorama experience

For about two months now I’ve been using beta version after beta version of Firefox 4 but the last few days were different. Here came Firefox 4 Beta 4 and I just fell in love with the new Firefox Panorama feature. The browser started with Panorama hidden at first and only showed up after I added it by moving the “Tab Groups” button from the “Customize Toolbar”. This is probably a consequence of interface customization over-riding the default settings that ship as standard with the browser. I created a new profile to see the default settings for the “Tab Groups” button and found this little gem next to that little “List all tabs” button to the right of the tabs bar.

I have to say this, I started using Firefox Panorama with little enthusiasm even though I was waiting for it to show up in the next beta. I didn’t expect much since I’ve used Firefox Showcase in the past and felt that even though it was useful at times, it was gimmicky the rest of the time. It probably felt gimmicky because of having to deal with another window or tab for switching and showing open tabs in the sidebar sliced a piece of my viewing area. There were some performance issues as well especially with many open tabs. Firefox Showcase was an add-on but Firefox Panorama was a built-in feature. This meant Panorama was much faster in theory and it practically was so. Panorama is only visible for a short amount of time. It disappears as soon as I click on a thumbnail meaning that it is out of sight and out of my immediately in-working-mode mind. Focusing on making sure that it doesn’t keep me busy is a non-issue. The only relevant information is the tab that is currently in front of me.

So OK, it was quick and did a good job of switching between open tabs. Without expecting it this mode of work gave me a turbo boost. It was obvious that I did not want to leave Firefox 4 Beta 4. The influence on my productivity was amazing. To explain how amazing it was I have to explain a little about myself. I am one of many people who keep many tabs open and want them there the next time I relaunch Firefox. I have multiple tabs of social networking, news, funny pages, programming tips, things to read later and stuff that I just don’t have time to deal with on the spot. This meant that my Firefox window gets stuffed with tabs all the time and my currently used tabs were competing for space that was perpetually reserved. During my Firefox 3.x days I couldn’t get enough of a nifty little add-on that reduced tabs to a website’s favicon only, namely FaviconizeTab. It was handy then but is now replaced by the “App Tab” feature introduced in Firefox 4. Although this might be a solution to many people with multiple tabs open, it was a less-than-ideal solution for me. I just switched to Firefox Panorama for a tab count. I hope you are sitting for this. I have thirty-four tabs open this very instance while I type this blog post which is not as high as it gets.

“Tab Groups” do give me this daredevil spirit to have that many tabs open at once. I can vividly remember just a couple of months ago when I forfeited my right to see page titles by Faviconizing all my tabs. Also Firefox Showcase didn’t help when it came to organizing either. It was a visual experience alright but there was no uniformity or controlled structure. Firefox Showcase was only capable of grouping tabs based on windows which was relevant in principle but not intuitive. The visual representation was linear at best, exemplifying a glorified Microsoft Windows task switcher. Now I have four groups to make sense of my previous chaos. My groups are the following: Work, Social Networking, Programming and Reading. Of the thirty-four currently open tabs, only one is in the Work group (I am not at work). All the rest dwell at the remaining three real-estates as I please, and pleased I am!

“Now that is so much praise for one feature, it’s too good to be true” you say. As of now I haven’t hit a wall or felt that Panorama is under-whelming. A little polishing would be nice and those little circles showing pages loading would be useful if they showed up behind favicons or maybe on tab thumbnails. Accidentally closing tabs while in Panorama frustrated me at first because the “close” button to the upper-right was not very upper nor was it very right. The “close” button’s offset from the right was more than its offset from the top. It also didn’t have a border or background colour and was slightly invisible to my untrained eye. Thumbnails are also small when compared to actual tabs, giving me less manoeuvring space, but that is not Panorama’s fault. Eventually I got used to it and I now click on the lower half of the thumbnail instead of somewhere in the middle and everything works like a charm. Well, not everything! “Tab Groups” sometimes don’t behave as expected when resizing the window. I have a 1280×800 monitor on my laptop and although this is not much when compared to newer computers, this is what I have to work with. When I only slightly re-size the window with four groups dividing the space, one “Tab Group” shrinks to one column’s width but gets elongated and inserted below another “Tab Group”. This is not supposed to happen because “Tab Groups” are not supposed to overlap. Sometimes a group jumps to the top and its title renders outside the screen so I drag it down to put it in place. I hope the groups functionality gets fixed because it is the only nagging aspect of Panorama.

I am always excited with every Firefox version bump but this one has raised the bar for all browsers out there. Firefox Panorama is not just a nice looking feature. It is an organizational tool that I didn’t think of until I used it first hand (that being my right hand clutching the mouse). Now that I’ve said my piece about the current state of Panorama, would zooming with the mouse wheel be too much to ask for, Aza?