Loose Nukes Because every debate can be improved with a little highly-enriched uranium.

22Jun/119

Browser battle to the death

Which browser is the best for debate research?

It's like an ancient ritual: every few months, debaters are obligated to drop what they're doing and try to convince complete strangers that Firefox is better than Chrome, or Opera is better than Firefox, or Safari is better than them all. After a few futile volleys, everyone realizes they have no idea what they're talking about, and the conversation ends.

I decided to get some hard data. Over the last few weeks, I did a few days of intensive research in each of the top five browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera. My goal? Determine which was the most efficient research platform.

These are the results.

A few disclaimers

First, objectivity. This is an inherently subjective subject, so if you really, really love Internet Explorer - that's totally fine. I'm just telling you what conclusion I came to. Which happens to be that Internet Explorer is really, really terrible. πŸ˜‰

Second, background. Prior to this test, I used mostly Firefox, but I didn't have any particular "attachment" to it - I've used a number of different browsers, so being acclimated to Firefox wasn't a particularly big deal.

Third, purpose. Throughout this, I'm only going to be looking at suitability for research. Thus, I mostly won't be considering features that don't really affect the research process - like how nicely a browser renders Flash games.

Fourth, scope. This breakdown is not comprehensive - I may point out a feature or a problem that applies to multiple browsers, but only mention it once. In general, I'm only going after the most noticeable issues with each browser.

Fifth, platform. This article covers Windows browsers. In some cases, the browsing experience may be very different under Mac OS or Linux. In particular, Safari is much easier to use without a right-click button than other browsers; your mileage may vary.

Onward to the results!

#5: Internet Explorer 9

First, some (maybe) redeeming features

Accelerators: When you select text, IE pops up a little blue arrow with some fancy buttons to email, translate, etc. This could be useful, but I never really needed it, so it mostly just got in the way. By default, it's very heavily tied into Microsoft services like Bing and Live Mail.

Color-coded tabs: Internet Explorer tries to color-code tabs by their contents - for example, when I had two different biographies of the same person open, it recognized them and colored them both yellow. It's nice, but nothing to kill for.

Tab management: Internet Explorer attempts to open new tabs at intuitive locations on the tab bar, instead of just always sticking them at the end. It's a nice thought, but the execution is rather clumsy, so it's sometimes just confusing.

Taskbar: If you're using Windows 7, open tabs will display as separate images in the application-preview panel. You may or may not like this.

An inferior renderer

I'll be brief. Internet Explorer's page renderer is... not very good. Pages don't always look right, and those that do are often "rough around the edges" (literally - corners and edges are often fuzzy or disconnected.) The anti-aliasing routines also tend to make text look blurry. On the whole, it works fine, but there are better options available.

The interaction with the webpage is not always smooth, either. On more than one occasion, Explorer simply locked up and refused to let me edit a text field.

Internet Explorer is also visibly slower and clunkier than other browsers. The difference is most noticeable when scrolling - large pages tend to jump around and lag instead of scrolling smoothly, especially when other tabs are loading in the background. Scrolling also causes the graphics on some pages to glitch.

Interface problems

Internet Explorer's interface is generally OK, but there are plenty of problems. A sample:

Text select: Wow, this is frustrating. In every other browser I tried, when you select text, it selects the text. In Internet Explorer, when you select text, it selects... something, that may or not be the text. This isn't a problem for most articles, but when the page layout gets complicated, boy does it get annoying. Here's a video demonstrating the problem:

Copying text: When copying text, Internet Explorer doesn't put blank space between the paragraphs, so everything tends to run together. Sometimes it doesn't even put a single break in, so several carefully-formatted paragraphs are smashed together into a single block.

There are a few problems with tabbed browsing:

  • IE doesn't scroll tabs until they get so small you can't read them anymore. Since the tab bar is very narrow, this makes it extremely difficult to work with more than a dozen tabs or so.
  • The tab bar is down a little ways, instead of at the top of the window. There's no reason for this, since there's nothing else at the top of the window - just a blank space. This means that you can't quickly flick your mouse to the top of the screen - you have to aim carefully, which takes more time.
  • The "New Tab" button is all the way on the other side of the window from the URL box. This isn't a big problem, since you can do everything from the keyboard, but it would be nice if they were closer.

Password memory: Like most modern browsers, Internet Explorer can save the passwords to sites you log into frequently, but it's somewhat inconsistent. For sites that redirect (read "most sites"), the "Remember password?" field tended to disappear before I could click it.

Javascript alerts: You can't copy text out of a popup alert. This is a problem for me, because I use a system of popup alerts to store login information for certain academic databases. I can see the text, but I can't copy it.

Bookmark separators: Folders of bookmarks can't have separator lines - everything appears together. This is a cosmetic issue, but it bugs me.

A thermonuclear game-killer (for some people, anyway)

Internet Explorer has no drag-and-drop. At all.

At this point, you are either a) re-reading the previous sentence with a mildly puzzled look on your face, or b) passed out on the floor. While we wait for the second group to wake up, let me explain what the problem is.

Factsmith, the quintessential awesome research software you should all have (hint hint), is built around drag-and-drop. Instead of selecting text, hitting a key combination on the keyboard, clicking where you want it to go, and hitting another key combination on the keyboard, you can just select the text and drag it to the appropriate location - much faster. Virtually every Windows application supports this - except Internet Explorer.

Those who have never used Factsmith won't understand why this is such a big deal, but a few minutes of it made me want to bang my head against the keyboard (and I'm someone who uses keyboard shortcuts a lot.) Does it make Internet Explorer unusable? No, but it does make it annoying. There are better options available; use them.

Did I mention security?

Internet Explorer is famous for being really bad with security. Partly because of its popularity, partly because of the slow, proprietary development cycle (IE vulnerabilities typically take much longer to be patched than other browser's), and partly because IE is built directly into the operating system (giving attacks a shortcut), the majority of malicious websites on the Internet target Internet Explorer.

Also, no adblock

One major problem with Internet Explorer is the lack of a good ad-blocker. Banner ads are unsightly and distracting, and slow down page loading. For most other browsers, you can get free plugins like Adblock Plus that do an excellent job of filtering them out before they even load. With Internet Explorer, you can't.

Really, though, these concerns are minor, and not a good reason to avoid Internet Explorer. Honestly, it's not that annoying to be reading through an article on Greek financial investors and have to occasionally skip past an unobtrusive

AUGH NO KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!!

Seriously, if you're doing any serious research, get Adblock. And a different browser.

The bottom line: Version 9 is marginally better than previous incarnations, but a clunky renderer, missing or broken features, and rampant security holes drop Internet Explorer to the bottom of the list.

#4: Safari 5

A badly-designed interface

I'll cut to the chase. Safari's user interface is really badly designed. Let's take bookmarks for an example - it took me about five minutes to figure out how to create a bookmark, because it is not obvious at all.

Hmmm... there's a bookmark bar. Is there a button there to create a bookmark? No. What if I right-click? No. How about right-clicking the page? Nope. What about the tab bar? Oh, you can create multiple bookmarks at a time that way - but not one. (Why not?) Oh, there's a bookmark manager, it must be there - nope. (By this time I've figured out how to do pretty much everything else with bookmarks except create them.) Oh, there it is - the button with a plus sign to the left of the URL bar. (Why a plus sign, by the way? Literally every other major browser uses a star, which has been the accepted "bookmark" icon since Windows 98.)

The problem is simple: Safari is really bad at predictability - similar tasks are often accomplished in very different ways. I was looking in places related to bookmarks, while the actual button was in a place that had nothing to do with bookmarks. This is a common problem in Safari:This is a minor example, but the same wind blows across most of the application. The list of problems with the interface goes on and on:

  • You can't drag a bookmark into a bookmark folder on the toolbar, but you can do this from the bookmark manager. In fact, dragging is the only way to do this in the bookmark manager - so it's definitely the correct way to do it, but you can't do it in the most obvious place to do it. Why not?
  • Favicons show in bookmark folders, but not on the bookmark toolbar. Why not?
  • The "New Tab" button is way off to the right. You invariably have to move the mouse a long way to get to it, and it's very small, so it's hard to click.
  • etc.

You can defend all this, arguing that it makes more sense to Mac users, you get used to it quickly, etc, etc, but the fact remains that there are much better ways to do the interface.

A plethora of problems

It didn't take me too long to get used to the quirky interface, but Safari had a lot of other problems that made research more difficult. Here are some things that bugged me:

Remembering tabs: This is, in my opinion, the biggest killer flaw of Safari. There is no way to make it remember your tabs when you close it. I have no idea why not - you can remember windows, just not tabs. If you want to save your session, you have to create bookmarks for your current tabs, or hunt through your history when you open it again.

Reopening tabs: There's apparently no way to reopen a tab you closed by accident. Supposedly, there's a keyboard shortcut, but it didn't work for me and it only works with one tab anyway.

Tab overflow: Good heavens, the tab overflow. Safari will only show a limited number of tabs at any given time (on my case, 13.) After this, you can only access the rest of the tabs by opening a menu to change which of the hidden tabs the final tab displays. The only way to show the hidden tabs side-by-side is to rearrange them on the bar - but oh, wait, you can't drag them off the menu, you have to repeatedly set the final tab's identity and then drag it. Also, every time you open a new tab, it gets dumped at the VERY END of the whole list - so if you want it to be usable, you have to set it as the final tab and drag it around. If this sounds bad, it is.

Text search: Every time you switch tabs, the Find box disappears. If you want to search for the same text in several different tabs, you have to re-enter it for each one. (Also, the Find box has no option for matching case.)

URL bar: You can't search Google from the URL bar. This wouldn't be a problem (there's a separate search box, after all), except that Safari automatically puts your cursor in the URL bar whenever you open a new tab - so you're forced to switch to the search box manually, wasting time.

Javascript alerts: Like IE, you can't copy text out of a popup alert.

Creating bookmarks: Aside from the issues listed above, you can't create a bookmark without actually going to the page - which makes it difficult to bookmark a script or a page that redirects. You have to create a dummy bookmark and then edit the address.

Bookmark separators: Folders of bookmarks can't have separator lines - everything appears together. Again, this is a cosmetic issue, but it bugs me.

Visual distinction: Page icons aren't displayed on tabs. In addition, the tabs seem to pick relatively random parts of the title to display - usually the beginning, sometimes the end, occasionally the middle. This means that if you want the tab with the Wikipedia page, you can't just click on the one with the Wikipedia icon; you have to look for the tab that reads "th Australia - Wik...", or whatever it says at the moment, and click on it.

Speed: Safari on Mac OS X is very fast, but on Windows, it's noticeably slower than most of the other browsers I tested.

Other concerns

One potential concern is security. Internet Explorer typically gets a bad rap, but Safari may be even worse, at least in theory. At the 2011 Pwn2Own cracking competition, it was fully compromised in less than five seconds. Safari on Windows is generally considered safer, however (partly because it's a smaller target.)

Another possible concern is stability. Safari was the only browser that crashed during my testing - several times. (This was made particularly annoying by the fact that I couldn't easily restore my lost tabs.) Another time, it decided to delete all my bookmarks for no reason.

Some redeeming qualities

If you ignore the bad interface, Safari is actually a decent browser. The rendering engine (WebKit, the same one Chrome uses) produces nicely-polished pages, and basic browsing functionality works more or less as expected. There are also some nice features for everyday browsing, like a very pretty most-frequent-bookmarks view when you open a new tab.

One feature to highlight is the slick Reader view, which strips away the page fluff so you can just view the article. It's pleasantly easy on the eyes, but probably won't make or break anyone's research experience.

Another thing to remember is that Safari is really designed around the Mac operating system. It gets a big speed hike on Mac OS X, and it's much more usable without right-click than most other browsers. As a result, Apple fans may feel more comfortable with it than with other browsers.

The bottom line: If you can stand the badly-designed interface, Safari is a decent browser - but it's a Mac machine at heart, and most PC researchers will find it incredibly annoying.

#3: Chrome 10

You may be surprised that Google's brainchild only makes #3. Make no mistake: Chrome is an excellent browser. It's fast, it's powerful, and it's secure, but it's beset by a variety of minor irritations that keep it from being an ideal research platform. I'd happily recommend it as a day-to-day browser, and as a web development platform, but there are better options for research.

First: Features I really liked

Chrome is fast. Other browsers have caught up in page-rendering and script-execution speed, so you won't notice much difference during ordinary browsing, but it starts up a lot faster than Firefox.

Excellent security. Chrome is widely recognized as the industry standard in browser security, mostly due to a "sandboxing" technique that isolates web pages from each other and the rest of the system. (Chrome is the only major browser to consistently remain unscathed at Pwn2Own.) In reality, completely ironclad security is unnecessary for causal research (the New York Times website is not going to give you a virus), but it's nice to have.

Automatic page translation. If you visit a page in a foreign language, Chrome will offer to translate it for you automatically. (You can get a similar ease-of-use in other browsers with the Translate bookmarklet I supply in this post - but it's nice that Chrome's automatic.)

The ability to re-open a closed tab by right-clicking the tab bar. I'm not sure why I liked this so much, but I did. In most other web browsers, you have to use a keyboard shortcut (usually Ctrl+Shift+T) to reopen a recently-closed tab, or hunt around on the menus; Chrome supports the keyboard shortcut, but it also gives you the option if you right-click the tab bar. It's just nice not to have to switch to the keyboard.

Integrated developer tools. I've been using Chrome as my primary web-development platform for some time now, mostly because of the fantastic developer tools. You definitely don't need them for debate research, though.

A variety of minor irritants...

Tab management: When you have a lot of tabs open, Chrome just compresses them until they get so small you can't tell what any of them are. Combine this with the fact that the Close buttons are always visible, blocking out the text, and it becomes difficult to handle more than 20 tabs. (Supposedly, this will be fixed in a future version.)Search bar: Chrome combines the URL and Google search bar into one. I found this to be occasionally annoying when it would try to do something "smart" with my text that I didn't want. I got used to it pretty quickly, but a separate search box is more predictable.

Downloads: For URLs that directly download, if you open them in a new tab, Chrome will remove the URL when the download finishes. This is a problem if you want to get the URL for a PDF you downloaded with Google Scholar, since you can't copy the URL directly from Google (it will have a lot of redirect mumbo-jumbo in it.)

Javascript alerts: Like Safari and IE, you can't copy text out of a popup alert.

Bookmark separators: Folders of bookmarks can't have separator lines - everything appears together. Again, this is a cosmetic issue, but it bugs me.

Bookmark toolbar: By default, Chrome's bookmark toolbar only appears when you open a new tab, meaning it takes two clicks to open a new tab with a bookmark. This can be changed in the options, however.

Print preview: Inexplicably, Chrome has no print preview option, so if you want to see what a webpage will look like on paper, you're out of luck. (This can be annoying while printing extemp articles.)

RSS: There's no integrated RSS button, so you have to hunt around and try to find the feed URL manually if you want to subscribe to a page.

...and one deal-breaker

One major problem immediately dropped Chrome out of consideration for my top browser. Unlike all the other browsers tested, Chrome uses a custom, slimmed-down PDF plugin. It's slick and fast, but it has one debilitating flaw: You can't drag-and-drop text out of it - you have to copy and paste. Like IE, this makes Chrome annoying to use with Factsmith.

The bottom line: While all-around a solid browser, a few major deficiencies and a variety of minor irritants make Chrome less than ideal for a research platform (but not necessarily for other uses.)

#2: Opera 11

This was a bit unexpected. To my surprise, Opera was one of only two browsers I really enjoyed researching with (Chrome came close, but the PDF drag-and-drop issue kept coming back to haunt me.) Opera isn't perfect by any means, but it worked well, and it wasn't afraid to try out new ideas.

Bold new frontiers

Opera is a bit of a maverick, trying out new features before they become mainstream. For the most part, it operates (pun intended) just like any other browser, but a few features stand out:

Excellent performance on low-speed connections. The most interesting feature is Opera Turbo, a compression-proxy service that can make large pages load significantly faster. You can also use various other bandwidth-saving features like not loading images. If you have a decent connection, these features probably won't help much, but it's something to remember the next time you're trying to do late-night research on an overloaded hotel network.

Mouse gestures. This is really cool. Opera allows you to perform many common actions with "mouse gestures" - quick, easy mouse movements - instead of forcing you to switch to the keyboard or move the mouse across the screen to click a button.

Generally, you hold down the right mouse button and move the mouse in a specific pattern:Once you get used to it, it's much faster than conventional shortcuts (although you can still use them if you wish.) Mouse gestures are completely customizable; for example, I added one for copying text (see below.) (If you like mouse gestures, but want to use Firefox instead of Opera, there are addons like FireGestures that emulate this functionality.)

Comprehensive caching. Opera features much more sophisticated cache management than most other browsers; going forward and back and visiting pages repeatedly is often much faster, since it doesn't try to reload everything. You can even search the contents of all the pages you've visited in a session.

Full MDI tabs. Most browsers will let you have multiple windows. Opera goes a step further: it combines windows and tabs, so you can turn specific tabs into popup windows, while still managing them from tab bar. For example, you could put Google Docs side-by-side with a website for fast copying, without having two entirely separate windows.

Built-in bittorrent client. BitTorrent is a file-sharing transfer protocol; normally, to download torrents, you have to use special software. In Opera, you can download torrents just like any other file. I've never needed to use bittorrents while researching (honestly, they're mostly used for pirating software), but it's cool nonetheless.

Voice control. If you feel like commanding your browser to do things out loud (for whatever reason), you can do that. I promise not to look at you funny. πŸ˜‰

A well-done interface

For the most part, Opera is very intuitive - everything works about how you would expect. A few features in particular stand out:

Speed Dial: Opera has (in my opinion) the nicest "frequently used sites" display when you open a new tab. The tiles are large and clean, with crisp page previews. The URL bar is also well-done, with a powerful but not overly intrusive advanced-search dropdown.

Customizable: Almost everything about Opera can be customized, from the mouse gestures to the location of the tab bar. Compared to other browsers, Opera just plain has a lot of options.

Tab pinning and grouping: Tabs you use frequently can be "pinned" as icons, and several tabs can be grouped together. In practice, you probably won't use it much, but it's a nice touch.

Tab bubbles: I'm not sure what they're called, but they're nice. Tabs you open in the background will have a little bubble to let you know you haven't looked at them yet - useful when managing lots of different articles.

Tab preview: When you hover your mouse over a tab, it will display a preview of the page. (This sometimes makes it difficult to see the full title for a page, but that's a minor concern.)

Recently-closed-tab trashbin: All recently closed tabs are available by clicking a small trashbin icon. Other browsers have similar features, but it's nice that it's so easy to manage.Β  The bin also stores blocked popups, which is a great way to handle them.

Javascript alerts: For once, Opera does allow me to copy text out of a popup alert.

Speed: Not really an "interface" issue, but Opera is fast, no question about it.

A few design missteps

Tabs: While tab management is generally excellent, there are three minor deficiencies:

  • First, new tabs always open at the very end of the list, which can get annoying if you have a lot of tabs open. (Browsers like Firefox or Chrome will usually put them next to the current tab.)
  • Second, the tab bar isn't quite at the top of the window - it's close, but there's a little gap. This means you can't just flick your mouse to the top of the screen - you have to aim carefully.
  • Third, and most problematic, tabs don't scroll - they just compress until you can't read them. The problem isn't quite as severe as Chrome, however, and there are ways to compensate - you can pin tabs together, or have multiple rows of tabs. Still, it's a bit annoying.

Tabs will also sometimes behave in rather unexpected ways; for example, tabs sometimes randomly resized when I moused over them, making me miss the Close button. On the whole, it works well, but it it's not as polished as Firefox or Chrome.

Bookmarks: This is one major exception to Opera's general intuitiveness. Managing the bookmark toolbar is really, really awkward. You can sometimes drag things, and sometimes can't, and folders are really random. I was extremely confused at first, because I successfully created a folder, but did it in the wrong way somehow so nothing worked. Actually, managing bookmarks in general is a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

There are also no bookmark separators (well, you can do them in the sidebar, but not on the toolbar), and you apparently can't reorganize bookmark folders in anything except alphabetical order.

Trackpads: Like most browsers, you can open a link a new tab by middle-clicking. Unfortunately, if you're using a laptop trackpad without a middle-click button, you're out of luck: you can't use Ctrl+Click like you can with most other browsers. You can use a mouse gesture instead (right-click and flick down), but it's not quite as fast or comfortable.

PDFs: You can't view large PDFs until they're fully downloaded - most other browsers will let you view them as they download. This is only really a problem on slow connections.

Text search: Opera has the same problem as Safari - every time you switch tabs, the Find box disappears. If you want to search for the same text in several different tabs, you have to re-enter it for each one. (It does, however, have a Match Case option for once.)

Back button: You can't middle-click the Back button to open the previous page in a new tab. (Apparently I do this a lot more than I realized!)

Alas, poor Factsmith!: Drag and drop woes

Like IE and Chrome, Opera has problems with drag-and-drop. While you can drag text out of PDFs, you can't drag text out of ordinary webpages.

This is disappointing, since everything else works so well. I managed to compensate partially by creating a mouse gesture for Copy, which made it less frustrating than Internet Explorer, but I really missed the easy of drag-and-drop. Oh well, at least PDFs work.

The bottom line: Bold and under-appreciated, Opera features a wide range of innovative features, but falls a bit short on usability.

#1: Firefox 4

Even before reviewing my notes, Firefox was the obvious choice. Internet Explorer and Safari were merely frustrating; Chrome was solid but imperfect; and Opera was cool, but lacked a few key features. Coming back to Firefox felt like coming home after a long trip.

Firefox is simply very polished. This is a web browser that's been around a long time, has been used by a ton of people, and knows exactly what it's doing. Everything just... works. Bookmarks, tabs, windows, text selection, drag-and-drop, printing, options...

Here's a few things I like about Firefox.

Ridiculously extensible

Mozilla's official archive contains over 60,000 add-ons that have, collectively, been downloaded over 2.5 billion times. Firefox is built on an extremely extensible framework that allows add-ons to do almost anything; a small sample:

Adblock Plus - Ad-blocker.

DownloadThemAll! - Download accelerator and bulk downloader; lets you download entire batches of links at once, with advanced filtering and naming patterns.

Debate Copy - Adds a variety of functions for debate research, like autocopy, keyboard shortcuts, formatting tools, and site extenders.

FireGestures - Adds Opera-style mouse gestures to Firefox.

FoxReplace - Find & replace text on a webpage.

Zotero - An elaborate tool for organizing and tracking academic research.

Other browsers have add-ons, but for sheer number and quality, Firefox wins hands down.

Lots of features: a sampling

Download manager: Firefox's internal download manager is very nice. You can easily start, stop, and pause multiple downloads, track progress, and search past files. If your computer unexpectedly crashes mid-download, you probably won't even have to restart it - the download will pick up right where it left off.

Excellent session restore: Firefox's session restore is one of the most polished. You can close Firefox, go away, come back, and open it again, and all your tabs, windows, downloads, and half-completed sentences will be right where you left them.

Synchronization: Chrome and Opera can synchronize your bookmarks across multiple devices. Firefox goes further: It can synchronize everything, even your open tabs. You can seamlessly jump between computers mid-research and have all your tabs, bookmarks, and add-ons waiting for you.

Security: Firefox includes a variety of interesting security features. For example, it shows you site-verification credentials, automatically virus-scans downloads, warns about malware and phishing sites, prevents information tracking by advertisers, and allows you to easily erase cookies and other data by time or specific sites. While most of these features can be found in other browsers as well, some are unique to Firefox.

Built-in RSS reader: Firefox has very good RSS integration. You can easily subscribe to a site with Google Reader, a desktop reader, or even the built-in feed reader in Firefox.

A polished interface

I could list all the nice things about the Firefox interface here, but instead I'll just point to all my complaints about the other browsers above and say "it doesn't do that." πŸ˜› A few points are worth mentioning, though:

Stuff just works:Β The Firefox team spent a good deal of time looking at how people tried to do things, and designed the interface to accommodate them. There are often multiple ways to do common tasks, so you don't have to hunt around for the "right" way - you just do it. I have a few gripes with the default placement of some buttons, but it's easy to change things if you don't like them.

Bookmarks done right: Firefox's bookmark handling was my clear favorite. Everything behaves in a natural, obvious way: You can create bookmarks and bookmark folders several different ways, and drag and drop bookmarks wherever you want. Bookmark folders are powerful but not cluttered, and you can add separator lines to keep everything looking nice (yay!)

Tabs done right:

  • The tab bar is nice and wide, and tabs scroll before they get too small to read. You can easily scan through the tabs with the mouse wheel, search them from the Awesome Bar, or even see them all on a dropdown menu.
  • The tab bar is right up against the top of the screen, so you can easily flick your mouse up and find it without having to aim carefully. The tabs are also large enough to click easily, without taking up too much space.
  • Tab placement is intelligent (like Chrome, but better.) New links open right next to the current tab, so you don't have to search around for them; bookmarks open at the end of the list. The tab bar automatically scrolls around to keep recently-opened tabs in view.

The only tab feature I miss from Chrome is constant-sizing. Chrome won't change the size of the tabs until you move your mouse away from them, so you can close a lot of tabs in a row without having to re-orient your mouse as they change size. Nice, but not essential. UPDATE: The new Firefox 5 now includes this feature. Yay!

Awesome Bar and context-sensitive options: The URL bar (aka the Awesome Bar) does a lot more than just store URLs: it also searches Google, bookmarks, history, and open tabs, and you can assign special tags and shortcuts for additional options. Similarly, the search box can automatically show Google's search suggestions. Other browsers include similar features, but Firefox is one of the most polished.

The bottom line: A few eccentricities aside, Firefox is an excellent research platform, with solid features and an efficient, refined interface.

Comments (9) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Good review. I may be sharing this with others.

  2. Oh, and PC World ran a rather scathing article today on Firefox’s marketing strategy.

  3. Hmmm… your WordPress install isn’t accepting my link. πŸ˜›

    Let me try one more time: http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/230868/firefox_strategy_is_a_recipe_for_failure.html

  4. You can run regular Adobe Reader in Chrome (which I assume will allow you to drag and drop text?). Simply go to “about:plugins”, enable Adobe and disable Chrome viewer.

    That said, I find the speed of Chrome viewer incredibly more important than the minor inconvenience of copy/pasting vs. dragging and dropping– the speed of Chrome viewer is the biggest reason I switched (but then I also switched right before Firefox 4 came out and Firefox 3 was incredibly obsolete).

    Excellent post.

    • Yes, I know – but it’s more complicate than most users are willing to try, so I didn’t mention it.

      I’ve never had a problem with the speed… but I do have a problem with drag-and-drop. So yeah.

  5. Amen to Firefox + AdBlock!!! This is the only browser I use on a regular basis and I love it. Thanks for the well studied and written review. πŸ™‚

  6. Oh yeah forgot to mention… when I saw that blinking fake ad, I instantly AdBlock-ed it without even thinking about it – before I read the section you wrote about it. Took me all of .5 seconds. This particular add-on is my all-time favorite. I can even block whole sites with it! πŸ˜€

  7. Good review.

    Chrome now supports AdBlock. Yay!

    BTW, you CAN change were new tabs open in Opera – go to Preferences > Advanced > Tabs > and check “Open new tab next to active.”


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