Why I switched to Firefox

It’s a sad day and a good day. For years I’ve held onto my IE install out of love. I worked on IE 1.0 thru 5.0, and was one of the people that designed much of its UI. But my love for the past has faded. Last week I switched to Firefox: and I’ve been happy.

Why I switched:

  1. IE is a ghetto. There are specs I wrote for UI features in 1998 that are unchanged today, 7 years later, in a world where browser usage has changed dramatically. I’ve watched bugs that I fought to have fixed in 5.0 become regressions, appearing in 5.01 and surviving in 6.0. Even though it’s the product I was proudest of, using it now makes me sad – it’s been left behind. I do read the IE blog now and again – smart folks are working – but there’s nothing for me to install.
  2. Bookmarks work. The Favorites UI model in IE is the same one we built in 1997, when we knew most of our users had 20-40 favorites. It was made to be super simple and consumer friendly as most of the population was still new to the net. This UI is effectively broken today, designed for people that don’t exist. The Favorites menu and Favorites bar show links in different orders, the organize favorites dialog is just weird, multiselect doesn’t work: favorites is a sad forgotten place. This was by far my greatest frustration with IE, even though I’m responsible for much of the original design.
  3. Firefox has quality & polish. IE 5.0, for its time (1999), was a high quality release. Really, it was. Joe Peterson, Hadi Partovi and Chris Jones fought hard to give the team time to do lots of fit and finish work. We did fewer features and focused hard on quality and refinement. Firefox feels to me like what IE 6.0 should have been (or what i expected it to be after I left the team in ’99). It picked a few spots to build new features (tabs), focused on quality and refinement, and paid attention to making the things used most, work best. The core UI design is very similiar to IE5: History/Favorites bars, progress UI, toolbars, but its all smooth, reliable and clean.
  4. They made a mainstream product. One of the big challenges in designing software is balancing the requests of earlier adopters in the community, with the needs of the majority of more mainstream users. After playing with mozilla on and off I was afraid firefox would be a built for programmers by programmers type experience. It’s not. I don’t know who in the firefox org was the gatekeeper on features and UI, but I’d like to meet him/her/them (seriously). They did a great job of keeping the user experience focused on the core tasks. If you’re reading please say hi.
  5. Security isn’t annoying. . The press makes security into such a huge deal, but I’ll be honest. I don’t want to think about security at all. I’ll do what I need to, but mostly I want the system to take care of it and stay out my face. Nothing in FF makes me feel safer explicitly, I just don’t deal with as many warnings, settings and other details. I know from the PR that security in FF is better (even if only because it’s less targeted by spyware, etc.) but I’m pleased that the product doesn’t remind me of how safe I am all the time.

Problems with Firefox:

I’m a UI design guy, so many of these are UI related. (Added note: I’d used FF on and off, but since I’m now 100% some of these are complaints might fade in a month of usage. Stay tuned).

  1. Find UI. Why does the find dialog appear at the bottom of the screen? I agree that a dialog box (semi-modal) can be a mistake if you’re doing multiple searches, but flipping a coin for placement (top vs. bottom), the top is a better choice for any UI, especially if it’s going to look and act like a toolbar. I can’t move it so it earns a spot on this list. However, the overall implementation isn’t circa 1992 like the IE one. It highlights, it searches on type, & it warns on unfound items – nice..Firefox find
  2. Download UI. Here’s a case where modeless makes sense (it’s never my primary user task), but here we get a dialog box. My first crack at this would be a one line toolbar, much like the find bar, at the bottom of the screen telling me about downloads. That’s where all the other dl status info goes. Again, despite my nits, it’s an improvement on the ancient IE implementation (which we all hated forever too).
  3. Tabs and new windows. Firefox goes against IE behavior and starts each browser instance from scratch. IE intentionally brings the browser history into the new window: the bet being that users who want to continue from where they left off can, and those that want to go their home page can do that with one click. Everytime I hit Cntr-T and see a blank screen I think I’m in Word. I use tabs less often than I expected: opening new windows is often more comfortable – easier to track which window lives where. With multiple tabs (I find) the back/forward behavior becomes complex and hard to predict. Strict UI logic would put the tab UI above the toolbars, not below, but that creates other problems.
    Firefox tabs
  4. Tabs and modality. The desired illusion of tabs should be to make each tab a virtual browser. Well this breaks when you bring up a modal dialog within a tab: you can’t switch to another tab. It’s an annoyance, not a sin, but when it happens it reinforces my new window habit, and slaps my wrist on my growing New tab habit.
  5. The return of the go menu. It was with great pride that we killed the go menu in IE 5.0. It was the stupidest menu I’d ever seen, since it was never used and no one knew what it did. For accessibility it was necessary, but had no rights to be a top level menu (IE has View.Go). The Go menu was probably inherited from NSCP/mozilla, but it really should be put out to pasture. And if it stays, someone needs to explain why it shows a different history list than the one in the back button drop down.

For reference: I wrote about principles of browser design here: How to build a better browser.

(Update: I’ve responded to many of the comments in a second post.)

316 Responses to “Why I switched to Firefox”

  1. sjk

    jollekox:

    The Saft plugin (shareware) for Safari enables tabs rearranging.

    Reply
  2. Mark Hilton

    I’m an OmniWeb fan … love their different implementation of tabs (which are moveable), workspaces … so much. It has its problems, some of which the latest beta seems to solve.

    Safari is OK–I used it as my default until Omni made the new version once more compatible with Speed Download–but my alternative browser of choice is Opera. Much prefer it to Firefox, and it will go to sites that other browsers, other than IE which I loathe, won’t. Customisable with skins, including minimal ones, which I like.

    OmniWeb is Mac only, and is pay-for; Opera, is pay-for unless you are willing to put up with an ad-banner in the top right corner. I don’t mind … it doesn’t take up space that would be otherwise used for the UI.

    Mark

    Reply
  3. Michael

    I agree with everything you said, except for the go menu. I really like that feature and use it extensively. You can load different engines in it ..

    Its REALLY useful if your on a modem or have a shady internet connection. Less page views ( technically 0 ) until I have my search results = a faster browing experience everytime vs. pulling up the search home page, then a query.

    Reply
  4. Serge Robidas

    I don’t understand why you switched, because you’re gonna have to switch back anyway. When Microsoft releases IE7 it is going to kick Firefox’s ass.

    Reply
  5. Thomas

    The most annoying thing for me in FireFox is the modal dialog when i mistype an URL. There should load a message in the content pane.

    my 2 cents…

    Reply
  6. macsmister

    Just for your info, guys, Opera is totally free now, meaning there isn’t a single reason not to switch to Opera anymore. Check it out at http://www.opera.com and get you a fresh FREE copy of Opera 8.5, the best browser ever.

    Reply
  7. Mike

    Maxthon who use IE motor is far better than Firefox, try it!
    I haven’t seen any other browser that can compare yet.

    Reply
  8. Nemes Ioan Sorin

    Hi there Scott ..

    I am an usability fanatic too – but regarding “Tabs and new windows” chapter
    .. is a strange problem that I find regarding myself.

    U touch the right point in theory about UI but when I install Firefox – I dont feel any visual, logical discomfort – back / forward bnt’s just work as I espect, Firefox come to me like my skin.

    About GO menu maybe the name is not perfect – I use GO menu when I need ( no more / no less ), so ..is there but this dont disturb me.

    Also I dont keep menu toolbar, just icons like Safari.

    And there I think Firerox take points. Anyhow I can put almost all buttons everywhere I want, …if I dont like defaults.

    So my real experience beat theory – my internal runtime beat my logical construction ( I am designer too ).

    On the same time I have to recognize about IE ( despite his internal problems ), has an usable interface.

    The “battle” if I can say so is on the functionality field.

    Here David win against Goliath.
    Again.

    Reply
  9. xlynx

    firefox is much better with 2 extensions:
    -tabbrowser preferences
    -sessionsaver

    my 2 biggest annoyances:
    -address is not always maintained in the address bar if a page fails to load early in the process (eg dns timeout)
    -popup error messages that steal focus from all other tabs and require user to click ‘ok’. The whole program is basically a way of displaying text. Use it.

    Reply
  10. Aaron

    Vlad Zachary Says:

    September 13th, 2005 at 11:31 am
    I have a question about FF. On my PC FF runs slower than the IE and I have the feeling some of the Windows updates or something in the OS is causing this. Is this possible and how do I find any evidence or am I way off?
    Thanks

    One of the reasons I believe IE is faster than FF is because IE is imbedded deep within the layers of the operating system. By design, IE loads into memory when the OS is loaded, so it will always load faster than rival browsers. Also, because of this lower level it’s in, there are less system calls to system calls through the layers to actually use IE than FF and other browsers, making it run faster as well. Still, I’ll stick with my FF :D

    Reply
  11. auburn

    huh. I never noticed the go menu before…

    Reply
  12. Kevin Sutherland

    Don’t touch the Find Bar!

    The Find Bar is perfectly placed at the bottom of the screen, way better than a box in the middle of the screen that blocks out part of the web site. Putting it on top would mix it in with the other toolsbars with text boxes, like the address and Google search bars.

    Reply
  13. Silvio Sisto

    I find it really upsetting that Firefox doesn’t clone the current tab when opening a new one. I went to the edge of looking this up in the internet (and actually found a solition luckily). But I also find it anoying that IE does it all the times. Sometimes I need to do it but sometimes I don’t want to and it uses bandwidth with no purpose at all (I use a modem). So it would be usefull to have both options. I’ve just downloaded an extension called duplicate tab to see how it goes. Firefox is really working to be be better than IE unlike Opera and Netscape. I hope it doesn’t stop.

    Reply
  14. imwitty

    Bravo, Lusenok!

    I vote with both hands for every word of praise about Opera’s features (NB: I’m not a Norwegian and I even don’t live in Europe ;’-))

    Kevin: Did you try Opera?!

    I love both — Opera and Firefox — VERY MUCH. They are just awesome, even so that baby Firefox still needs some adjustments mentioned above, and probably other as well: I’m just a user, not a programmer or web designer.

    My only concern: I can’t make BOTH browsers DEFAULT! ;’-))

    I use IE ONLY when I stumble at the website, which I can’t open with Opera or Firefox, because the webmaster/designer of that site is real slacker.

    Also, sometimes I’m FORCED to use IE, since a link I clicked on opens IE AUTOMATICALLY, even though IE is NOT my default browser.

    Is there any way to solve these problems and get rid of IE on my PC completely (except when I have to go for help to the MS website)?

    Anyone to help me?

    Thanks in advance for your advices, guys!

    Reply
  15. David Walker

    Regarding all this back/forward stuff: Since I switched to Avant Browser (a tabbed overlay on top of IE), I don’t ever use “back”. When I see an interresting link (like the link off this page to Asa’s responses and Berkun’s own How to Build a Better Browser), I open each of them in a new tab, then (usually) continue reading this same page, knowing that the linked-to stuff that I was interested in is open in a new tab.

    Or I might go read the new tab right away, and rather than using Back when I’m done (remember, there were two simultaneous forks off the current page) I just close the new tab when I’m done reading it… or more likely, I’ll fork off a couple of new tabs from that page. A single global back/forward history is useless to me.

    Since that’s how I read stuff, I never use the Back button, and history is irrelevant for me. And I often have 10-20 tabs open at once in the middle of reading about a subject (like, um, IE7 and other browsers).

    Of course, that’s just my preference — so tabs are a must. I’m not quite sure why tabs feel so much better than new instances; maybe since they all open full-screen instead of IE’s inability to do that (without third-party programs like AutoSizer).

    If IE7 does everything as well as Avant Browser, it will be great.

    Reply
  16. Paul Sanchez

    Thanks for posting this article. Great to hear from your point of view considering your back ground! Just to let you know I have a new video site up about FireFox. Come see and share why you love FireFox. Go here: http://www.firefoxvlog.com

    Reply
  17. Alexander Berglund

    About your nr 4 “Tabs and modality”; Tto switch among the tabs:

    ctrl + tab (forward)
    ctrl + shift + tab (backward)

    Reply
  18. Alexey

    I still can’t decided if I want or no to use FF. I tried so many browser so I lost in them…

    Reply
  19. SBoy

    Crazy_8 said:
    ….I just love the idea of ActiveX not even being supported….

    You are a silly little man… ActiveX wasn’t incorporated because it’s very difficult to incorporate, but if you know about windows and some programming, you would realize, you could make some nifty programs using ActiveX and Explorer…..

    Reply
  20. Mr Bobla

    Sboy said:
    “You are a silly little man…”
    I’m tempted to say you’re a silly little boy but I won’t as it’s childish and imature.
    ActiveX may be very powerful but it’s this reason why people are avoiding IE.

    Reply
  21. Dominik S.

    IE does not abide to W3C standards. That is what annoys me most about it. I recommend anyone using it to do all serious web developers a huge favour and go for FF instead.

    Reply
  22. Tony

    I use firefox most of the time, preferring the tabbed browsing features and search functionality. However I get really annoyed about not being able to create copies of the window I’m working in.

    Particularly when using web mail – when I’m composing a message and I want to create a copy of my webmail session to reference another email or grab someones address. In IE I simply press CTRL_N, then use the back button. In firefox I have to create a new window and then go through the painful process of logging into my webmail account every time.

    Reply
  23. blah

    Personally – I do not like opening a new tab and seeing a blank screen. It reminds of the “about:page” spyware issue. I would rather the tab opens up to the current page that I am viewing. I typically use tabs when I want to view links to new page, but do not want to have to go through the hassle of viewing the link (and possible subsequent links) and then clicking “back” n times to get back the page that I originally was viewing.

    Reply
  24. little brother

    Sorry – this is ticking me off. I like firefox because there is not ever any question to the security of my identity. However, IE or the Microsoft products, there has been question for the past few years now.

    For example, the new IE is pretty cool, but what is this phishing component? Now Microsoft gets to see the surfing habits of its users? What? This is not the domain of the OS. The OS is designed to operate the computer – not play superman for users and save the day from their poor decisions. Computers are supposed to do what you tell them. They are not tools to do what Microsoft Execs decide they are supposed to do for you. If you want this feature, I believe it should not be bundled in with the browser / OS, but a person should make a conscience decision to add the feature. I also do not think it is “fair” that Microsoft will be getting all these free marketing “surveys”. Talk about Big Brother. Guess who the Justice department is going to be contacting next about search records?

    Reply
  25. MT

    I realize this was posted in 9/2005 but alot has changed since then, including Opera becoming free and Firefox going over 100 security vulnerabilities. Anyone interested might want to get the facts about firefox: http://www.firefoxmyths.com

    Reply
  26. Larry

    Sorry – this is ticking me off. I like firefox because there is not ever any question to the security of my identity. However, IE or the Microsoft products, there has been question for the past few years now.

    For example, the new IE is pretty cool, but what is this phishing component? Now Microsoft gets to see the surfing habits of its users? What? This is not the domain of the OS. The OS is designed to operate the computer – not play superman for users and save the day from their poor decisions. Computers are supposed to do what you tell them. They are not tools to do what Microsoft Execs decide they are supposed to do for you. If you want this feature, I believe it should not be bundled in with the browser / OS, but a person should make a conscience decision to add the feature. I also do not think it is

    Reply
  27. Larry

    Sorry – this is ticking me off. I like firefox because there is not ever any question to the security of my identity. However, IE or the Microsoft products, there has been question for the past few years now.

    For example, the new IE is pretty cool, but what is this phishing component? Now Microsoft gets to see the surfing habits of its users? What? This is not the domain of the OS. The OS is designed to operate the computer – not play superman for users and save the day from their poor decisions. Computers are supposed to do what you tell them. They are not tools to do what Microsoft Execs decide they are supposed to do for you. If you want this feature, I believe it should not be bundled in with the browser / OS, but a person should make a conscience decision to add the feature. I also do not think it is ?fair? that Microsoft will be getting all these free marketing ?surveys?. Talk about Big Brother. Guess who the Justice department is going to be contacting next about search records?

    Reply
  28. ilko

    No doubt Firefox is better. I used to use IE, then Maxthon which is basycally IE with multiple windows. Firefox is more secure, easy to use, there are more useful plugins etc. imho

    Reply
  29. applesanity

    All of the UI problems that you pointed out for the Firefox browser do not exist for Opera. Firefox fanboys will tell you that with the correct combination of downloaded extensions, you can fix those problems. However, the standard, out-of-the-box version of Opera doesn’t need extensions.

    Reply

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