Mozilla's Firefox Web browser turned five years old today, and as I took it for a celebratory spin (I'm a recent Chrome convert), it was easy to notice how similar all the major browsers have become in terms of basic functionality. For instance, it's harder to choose one browser over another for the way it treats tabs and windows, as Firefox now lets you drag tabs into separate windows. Nor will privacy nuts find that they can't go incognito in their browser of choice.
Still, reasons to choose one browser over another remain, and Firefox's fifth birthday provides a good excuse to put it under the spotlight. Here's what I love and hate about Mozilla's Web browser:
Unlike Internet Explorer, whose system for adding “Accelerators” feels a bit clunky, and Chrome, which doesn't have add-ons at all, Firefox's Add-On system feels intuitive, like it's a natural fit for the browser.
Hate: No Omnibar
With Chrome, I've grown to love the idea of typing whatever I want into one single input box, be it a URL or a Web search. There were privacy concerns with this system initially, but Google has somewhat addressed them, and now it just seems like a feature that's ripe for the copying.
Love: Still Sticking With the Menu Bar
Chrome and IE might value screen real estate instead, but kudos to Firefox for keeping the menus for “File,” “Edit,” “View,” and “Tools” in plain sight. When you need to manage your browser, it's nice to have those options up front.
Hate: Windows First
This is my personal preference, but when I want to open a page for later reading, my first preference is to create a new tab, rather than a new window. So why does Firefox -- and for that matter, Internet Explorer and Safari -- offer “Open Link in New Window” as the first option? It's a little nuisance that prevents me from opening new tabs without even looking at the context menu.
Love: Mac Compatible
More than you can say for Chrome. And using Internet Explorer as an alternative to Safari just feels wrong.
Hate: Firefox Dislikes Your Netbook
The added screen real estate doesn't help, but I found that Firefox chugged on my netbook, at least by default. I'm aware that you can tweak the browser for better performance, but Chrome runs great out of the box. Also, Firefox's use of a single environment for each tab means the whole thing could crash if you bite off more browser windows than your poor little netbook can chew.
Love: Recently Closed Tabs, Windows
The “reopen closed tab” feature in Chrome is a savior for anyone who closes a Web page by accident, but Firefox takes it a step further by letting you review a larger recent history of closed tabs and windows. Browsers will always compete over speed and performance, but the most time-saving features are the ones that correct human error.