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Safari vs. Firefox

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John Gruber just compared Firefox 3and Safari 3 – chipping in his reasons for staying with the latter at the moment. I have had similar thoughts for a while, or a few years.

The thing is I don’t like Firefox on my Mac. That may be a personal thing but to me the application always communicates that I’m not welcome. Rather it’s on some freetarded joyride of doing things ‘cross-platform’ rather than in a way that blends in with the system it’s running on.

And thus, I use Firefox only when I need to make sure some web design looks fine in all browsers. To do that I use the command in Safari or Coda to pass the page in question on to Firefox. But – pretty much every time I do so –, after taking ages to launch, Firefox prefers to not display the page I just told it to display and displays something like this instead:

Firefox plugin updating window

And that’s driving me nuts. Totally. It’s not that I dislike the plugin idea – the openness of which is certainly preferable to the Safari approach where they first tell you you can’t have ad filtering plugins and then tell you off for using ‘unapproved’ input manager tools to achieve the same effect – it’s that fact that the browser considers it’s own infrastructural wellness more important than me seeing a web page. From my point of view, of course, looking at a web page is pretty much the only use I have for the browser. And I end up being upset.

Not just because things don’t work properly but also because it communicates a mindset in which the browser was designed (well, perhaps it wasn’t designed but it was just programmed piece by piece). And once that mood has been communicated, you start seeing all the other places where the browser says ‘I’m right you’re wrong’ as well. Be it the general lack of integration with the system for anything beyond using the clipboard and printing, be it the infuriatingly broken (read: non-Mac like) keyboard navigation in the location field which doesn’t jump to the end when hitting the down arrow key or be it the fact that the about box window has a pointless button for showing a non-existant toolbar.

Some of these points may seem minor and others could possibly be adapted to. But why should I adapt my Mac habits to Linuxy ones?

Now all this is a terrible shame of course. Because in principle I want to like Firefox. It’s existence is good for the technical quality of the web. It managed to chop significant chunks of users out of the IE/Win monopoly. I am even tempted to say that the existence of serious competition in the browser market may be one of the reasons why Microsoft saw the need to increase their browser development efforts once again (make no mistakes, IE7 is still a POS but yet it’s significantly better than its predecessor).

I guess we could go on for a while discussing the finer points of these browsers and find a bunch of pros and cons: Safari’s Web Inspector is quite a good tool for web development. • Firefox’ Firebug is even more capable. •  Web Inspector is prettier. • Firebug is less buggy. • Unless you tweak it a little, Safari will annoy you with silly confirmation sheets when downloading disk images or applications • Firefox won’t automatically uncompress downloaded stuff. • PithHelmet is great. • Greasemonkey is likely even better. And free. • Safari will store a downloaded file’s URL in extended attributes. Unless you download via FTP or using the button in the PDF viewer at least. • Safari passes some tests. • Firefox probably passes some tests as well. • Safari supports text-shadow. • Mozilla had a bug filed on the topic since 1999. • Firefox can’t do display:inline-block. That’s even worse than IE/Win. • Safari gobbles up loads of RAM. • Firefox is said to gobble up even more RAM. • I can’t friggin drag a tab out of a Safari window to the side – which is pretty much the only such drag operation I ever do.

It’s a mixed bag I guess. And they all display web pages. But so does IE5.5…

April 10, 2008, 0:22

Tagged as software.


Comment by G: User icon

This X vs. Y debate is good for declarative weblog posts, but it’s a little elitist and not very pragmatic. Software and their solutions have evolved far enough for me to think that no one program will fill all my needs, or the niche functions I like. There are very few “one program-multifunctional” examples that I use; like OS X, iTunes and Apple’s Mail. For everything else it’s two programs, at least.


If one can find just two programs to fulfill all the functions that one likes/needs/uses then I consider that blissful. In your case it looks like Firefox 3 and Safari, together, is a useful combination. I would like to see one application/per function, but I’d rather just hope for World Peace.

April 10, 2008, 15:55

Comment by ssp: User icon

I guess the point I hoped to make was that the difference between Safari and Firefox is mainly about style and manners. There are differences in the features but few people will notice them. If I weren’t testing designs every now and again, a Safari-only setup would work fine for me.

Regarding you two-app strategy I am tempted to be more reductionist. Rather stick with one imperfect application than burdening yourself with two of them. You may still have 90% of your needs covered then but you’ll save yourself the hassle of having to deal with two applications. Perhaps I’m overly negative here or perhaps I’m just growing up but I can say that the more apps = better phase has ended for me. I am more annoyed than excited by new applications or updates to old ones. Mostly because most of the supposedly new or better stuff simply isn’t.

Particularly for media consumption applications I keep thinking that people are quite fussy and take things far too seriously. I tend to be happy with the less capable applications. Safari can display web pages, NewsFire can display RSS feeds, Preview can display PDFs, thanks to Perian QT Player can (in principle, though not always in practice thanks to OS X.5’s crappy performance) play films, Preview can display PDFs. That solves most problems. Unfortunately Preview is a bit weak in image manipulation and conversion, so I’ll have to stick with GraphicConverter for the time being.

If only Coda could open large files and had a command line tool for opening files. Then I could dump TextEdit and SEE…

April 10, 2008, 16:28

Comment by G: User icon

…thanks to Perian QT Player can (in principle, though not always in practice thanks to OS X.5’s crappy performance) play films

Actually, this is quite an important point for me. Extensibility of an application can lead to something beyond the 90% bliss you talk about. If Safari had a well documented and well supported way to extend its functions then things would be a lot sweeter for that app, and so on…

Notice, though, the “Freetards” are those who supply a lot of plugins and hacks that do make things better — even with Apple’s bundled apps. They ain’t all that bad.

April 10, 2008, 17:32

Comment by ssp: User icon

That’s the fun about words like ‘freetards’. They may mean other things than they seem to. At least I tend to use such words to indicate an idea rather than a fact. Just as you can speak about ‘blondes’ without insulting the blondes you speak (if you’re picky about the people you speak to, anyway) because the word is not used to indicate a hair colour but rather a mindset.

I like to think about open source stuff in the same way – and the word freetards makes it sound better. Many people put out great free software without being annoying. Others share helpful hacks and those are free as well. (Just look at the stuff Alf does). And even though such software or hacks may carry a ‘free’ license, it’s just a license in those cases and not a big ideology thing. The point is not that it’s free or open or whatnot the point is that it does the job.

I am split on the extensibility issue. I totally see the point and I’m a big fan of things like APE or input managers which are frequently derided as dirty hacks these days. Perhaps the people hating them have a technical point, but they certainly miss the main issues that I don’t really care about the technicalities and that I like the machine to work the way I want it to work. After all, I’m the most important person for my computer – even if Mr Jobs disagrees with that.

On the other hand, too much extensibility is a nightmare. It makes it difficult to work on systems that aren’t your own carefully adjusted environment because you’ll feel compelled to transfer your whole setup first which isn’t always practical. But even more so – as the Firefox screenshot shows – it brings you into an update nightmare. I doubt that we are going to see satisfying solution for that on the Mac.

April 11, 2008, 0:31

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