A Day Without Firefox

I'm not sure I'm ready to ditch Firefox. In fact, on my home system I have no need to. It does everything I need and is reasonably fast and responsive enough.

But at work it's another story. Because at work I'm relegated to using old, outdated PPC hardware. For most of the work I've been doing lately — mainly programming and web development, of all things, which mostly amounts to the editing of various kinds of text files — this has been perfectly adequate. Where I suffer most is in the browser. Firefox, whose functionality and flexibility I love, just dies a horrid death on slower kit. And this has me looking for alternatives at work.

Chrome is out, of course, because it only runs on Intel boxes, and for some reason it always crashes my home system in serious ways I don't understand. So I've been steering clear of it, though I do like it a lot in theory.

But Safari 5, with its new extensions functionality and its blazing speed, offers hope. I started off as a Safari user, but ended up moving to Firefox way back when I needed certain web app functionality that broke in Apple's browser. But, over the years, Safari has matured. Safari 5 looks to be a possible contender for my main browser, especially at work. But since it runs well on both PPC and Intel Macs, I could also, theoretically, use the same setup across machines.

So I've decided to spend the day using Safari — and only Safari, no Firefox allowed — to see how she fares. So far, I have to say I'm impressed. Many of the features I simply can't live without have already been mitigated by the appearance of extensions. There is already an extension for restoring your browsing session after a relaunch. Nice!

In addition, I'm also enjoying some extensions that I don't have on Firefox. Namely Gmail Checker, which keeps a button in my toolbar to notify me of any new Gmail. I like this a lot!

I'd be surprised if there weren't something similar for Firefox out there, but a quick search doesn't yield quite what I'm looking for.

Anyway, I published my initial observations on Safari 5 last week. Here are some more after using it exclusively for a day.

What I Like:

  • Fast! Even with many many tabs, and on PPC hardware, Safari 5 ususally stays very responsive.
  • Keyboard commands work great.
  • Extensions really improve functionality and there are lots already. I'm using:
  • Safari's Autofill is pretty nifty and I'll use it because it uses Keychain, which I trust. Though I do prefer Firefox's ability to remember only usernames, and not passwords by default.
  • Gmail Checker is fantastic. It lets me keep Gmail closed — before I always kept it open in a tab — while still allowing me to stay on top of new emails. This means I don't have to constantly check the Gmail tab, since I'm always looking at the browser and the indicator, a bright red badge, is readily visible from any tab and the button opens Gmail when you want it. It really cuts down on the distraction of email and helps me focus on what I'm doing. A very unexpected perk. I find myself thinking about — okay, obsessing — far less about email.
  • So far all my web-apps work just fine.
  • I'm really enjoying having a native browser again.
  • I'm looking forward to being able to use some of the built-in OS features like the dictionary and text snippets.
  • I also like the fact that Safari supports h.264. I feel it's the wave of the future.
  • I really like Safari's built-in Developer functionality. It's much better integrated than Firebug for Firefox.

What I Don't Like:

  • So far there's very little I dislike about Safari 5.
  • One thing I'll miss at this point is Firefox's Delicious functionality, which originates from a very nifty plugin that allows the browser full access to your Delicious bookmarks. I've really enjoyed this, but I find myself using it less and less. And it's very possible we'll see this sort of thing in Safari now that there are extensions.
  • What I'll miss most will probably be Firefox's Sync (nee Weave) plugin, which allows you to sync your bookmarks, tabs, passwords — everything and anything in your current browsing session — to the cloud and across computers. At home but need a tab you had open at work? No problem; it's synced. It's very nice.
  • I also sympathize with the Mozilla crew on the h.264 front. I agree with them, philosophically, on the matter. But the practical fact of the matter is, h.264 is here now and it's very good. There simply are no good alternatives. While I understand Mozilla's point, and I almost feel that they have to stick by there guns on it because it's who they are, I worry that it will ultimately render Firefox obsolete. Still, part of me wishes Firefox could win on this issue.
  • I may miss AdBlocker somewhat as well, though to be honest, I only used it to speed up Firefox's shoody performance. So I may not even need it much in Safari.
  • I also vastly prefer the way Firefox handles a very large number of tabs, which is to allow you to scroll though them. While probably not a deal-breaker, for someone like me Safari's implementation can be limiting form time to time.
  • There are little things I'll miss, like the ability to keep the download window closed when initiating new downloads. Just little niceties.

But so far, I have to say, I'm enjoying using Safari as my main browser quite a bit. I have yet to run into any serious limitations, and that's the main thing. Will I switch over completely? It's too soon to tell. But I might, and that's big progress for Safari in my book.

In fact, things have gone so swimmingly that I'm extending the experiment. I'm now trying Safari as my primary browser for a bit longer, and I'm trying it at home on my Intel hardware as well.

Just one note on that front: I did a very unscientific speed test of the two browsers, at home, on my fast, relatively new Intel MacBook. I tested launch and quit speeds for each browser with two tabs open, my Gmail and my Netflix queue. Firefox took a full 30 seconds to completely finish loading both tabs at launch; and it took a perplexing 12 seconds to quit. Safari launched and loaded both tabs in about 13 seconds — less than half the time it took Firefox — and quit nearly instantly, the only thing slowing it down being the confirm dialog at quit (which you can turn off). These are major speed gains, and it's here that Firefox has always lagged. If the features have gotten good enough in Safari, I may well switch. Only time will tell.

Either way, I'll keep you posted.

ADDENDUM: Today I performed the same tests on Firefox and Safari and both browsers performed much better. Both Safari and Firefox were able to launch and load their pages in about 7 seconds, and both quit immediately. I'm not sure what the difference is between today's tests and yesterday's. Perhaps there is something funky with my account or my computer. Perhaps our Internet connection was slower yesterday. In any case, I think it's still fair to call Safari the faster browser, particularly under adverse conditions. And when those conditions exist the difference can be fairly pronounced.