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Originally posted December 1 2004 at 10:12 under Mozilla. 0 Comments. Trackbacks Disabled.

Firefox Experiment

Mixed :-s
Various over the last week and a bit

Sometime ago I said I’d dump the Mozilla suite for a week and try out using a combination of Firefox, Thunderbird and Sunbird. Well, the week’s over (for quite a while). This post has been in draft status and added to since almost the moment of install—I’m posting it now because I think it’s about time it went out the door, so to speak. So, what do I think?

Well, first the things I sort of miss/find annoying:

  • Lack of advanced search. One of the great features of the suite is the advanced search sidebar. That allows all those search plugins to be organised into categories and, even more importantly, searches to be performed over several at once. The search bar now has about three dozen search plugins installed—and when I was using the suite I had more than that; I was trying to be conservative. A simple drop down list just doesn’t cut it as a UI after the first 10 or so. It used to be that advanced search could be brought back as an extension, but apparently code pruning means this is no longer possible.
  • I want control-enter in the search box to search in a new tab. Come on, this is simple usability stuff. Come to that, I want control-enter in the location bar to open the address in a new tab (I’ll have to have another hunt around to see if there extensions to do this). Apparently that would be Alt-Enter I’m looking for. That doesn’t make much sense to me. Accel (that’s control on windows)-T, Accel-click and Alt-Enter?
  • I want a keyboard shortcut to the Bookmarks Manager. I use this quite a bit, adding descriptions to bookmarks (and keywords), especially with the Flat Bookmarks Extension. I’ve got the Openbook extension installed because the whole bookmark handling in general is poor. Control-Shift-B doesn’t seem to be doing anything…
  • Given the whole pushing of tabs as a GoodThingTM the default ability to use them really needs some work (I mean, you even have to customise the toolbar to get a new tab button).
  • There are so many extensions installed just to get back up to the functionality of the suite
  • I don’t like the default theme It’s grown on me quite a bit—I think I might actually like it :-)
  • Removing the Control-I shortcut to page info was just silly
  • I understand the reasons extensions have a compatible maximum version number but from an end user point of view its pretty fiddly waiting for extensions to be updated with each new release. Of course, it also might help if wasn’t rubbish

I did get External Applications Buttons working in the end, after uninstalling and deleting every trace of it I could find from the profile’s chrome files etc.. Worked perfectly when I then reinstalled :-)… Except that now it doesn’t again, but I got it working long enough to install the buttons I wanted.

Having said all the above, will I be going back to the suite. Another alpha of 1.8 has just been released. Well, I’m shocking myself somewhat by saying, No. The fox is swift and despite all the extensions still feels lean. The coolest add-ons exist for the fox. I can arrange the toolbar how I want. I’m not sure how to do backwards porting. Thunderbird feels as slick, though it’s still only at 0.9. I suppose Sunbird could do with some work, but it’s really early in its development and it’s sort of my choice to use it rather than the more mature calendar extension—the only thing that really gets me is the lack of password management. There aren’t many 0.2 releases of such a large piece of software that good and it will be interesting to watch its growth.

I would like to say I still encourage development of the suite however. That integration is the thing missing from the family of standalones. It will be a crucial time come the release of 1.8 final and building Firefox 1.1. I believe it is vital that Thunderbird, FireFox and others find a place truly together whilst having the strength to stand apart. It looks like that’s the intended direction though, at which point it might well be time to say a gracious goodbye to the venerable old suite.

The leadership of Firefox will also be interesting. So far it has benefited from the strong willed direction shown by its driving forces. That attitude has served it well when it was the runt of the pack being reborn from the flames. It is not the small offspring it once was however, and it is important for its leaders to bear that in mind. There has in the past been a lack of communication and a sense (just or not) that the views of the community are oft ignored. Well that community has grown much larger now and must be allowed a correspondingly louder voice. The strong leadership is still important to produce a path through the howling storm but it may just need to bend to the winds a little more.

In some sort of rambling conclusion, Firefox is now a browser worthy of its 1.0 status, and it’s growing popularity. Mozilla really has come from being the off cast browser of geeks to something your grandmother could use, and probably should rather than run the security gauntlet which is IE. That’s not to say this is a perfect browser. It just has different failings. Hopefully the 1.0 momentum won’t fade and it will continue to grow from the flames to burn like a star.

Edit: List items should go inside the unordered list. Oops.

Update: Advanced search extension is back, as explained in this further post.

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Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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