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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Wed, 15 Nov 2017

New Firefox is the real deal but hasn't beaten Chrome yet

The new Firefox -- version 57 -- is being touted as faster then ever, with the unspoken message being, "if you do serious work in the web browser, you no longer have to use Google Chrome to avoid pulling your hair out."

I've been testing the new Firefox all morning, and I can say that's pretty much true. That said, there are still some design choices -- and I'm talking about how multiple tabs are handled -- where Chrome still wins. And after a morning of use, Chrome still retains a performance edge.

It didn't used to be a contest. When I used to run Firefox with multiple tabs open, it was a prescription for pain. But with the new Firefox, none of the performance issues I had with previous versions of Firefox are bothering me. I have my usual 15 or so tabs open, and I am able to switch between them with no lag and no blank screens. Nothing is freezing, which means everything is moving. Once my session "aged" a bit, I noticed a lag when trying to select text on a web page for copying. But I could still switch between tabs and start new ones with no trouble and no loss of speed.

About the only complaint I have is an old one: When you have more than, say, 15 tabs open in Firefox, you have to scroll to see them all. In Google Chrome, the tabs just keep getting smaller and smaller, and you can always see them all in your browser window. That's one thing that Chrome still does better -- for me, anyway.

But the fact that Firefox is no longer a performance nightmare compared to Chrome and is once again a viable alternative is huge. Google has much too big a piece of all of our pies to not have Firefox as a backstop against monopoly.

I've already been using the Firefox browser (the privacy version) on my Android phone, where it has been performing well for months. I can't tell a difference between it and the built-in Chrome, with the possible exception being that the Firefox browser is optimized to prevent spying and Chrome is very much not.

I hope Mozilla takes the browser where it needs to go -- performance equal to or better than Google Chrome. We really need the diversity in desktop and mobile browsing that Mozilla brings to a world where Google is the major player and Microsoft and Apple try to snare users of their platforms with each company's own in-house browser.

Things with Mozilla have been awkward. Company CEO (and JavaScript inventor) Brendan Eich's ouster over his anti-gay-marriage activism was the beginning of a very dark period for the non-profit entity.

With all the publicity of how much money Mozilla was getting from Google for search placement, any calls for donations from Mozilla were met (from me anyway) with a "how could they??" Even now, I'd like a bevy of compelling reasons for supporting Mozilla, financially and otherwise. A renewed Firefox that's going places, along with the Rust programming language that at least partly makes that possible is one. Advocacy for an open Web not controlled by "not evil" (in their own mind) corporations is another.

But that brings me back to the financials. Is Mozilla worthy of our money? Does it even need it? I applaud their efforts to bring Firefox back from the dead. It was basically killed by Google Chrome for sheer performance reasons, and Firefox's "return" has been delayed for years, it seems.

If I haven't said it already, we need Firefox, and we need Mozilla in its role as advocate and innovator. I will be using Firefox more, and since I haven't used it at all for the past few years, that should be easy. The open Web is important, but so is a more open world for the mobile devices and networks that have dwarfed "traditional" computer use over the past five or so years.

Mozilla tried to address this with Firefox OS, which failed fairly spectacularly. When the Firefox browser itself also fell behind, that was another ominous sign, and hopefully this week's release is the beginning of a new era for critical software that isn't controlled by an enormous company intent on making money by selling its users to bidders high and low alike.

Tue, 04 Jul 2017

Mozilla convinced me to try Firefox Focus for Android

I'm on Mozilla's mailing list, and they sent me an e-mail about the Firefox Focus browser being available for Android and how it enhances privacy and speeds up browsing by blocking ads.

I'm not one to add browsers to my phone. All of my previous Android phones were storage-challenged, and I could barely keep them running with a bare minimum of apps, so adding browsers just wasn't something I would even consider. And I did add Firefox once, and it took up a LOT of space.

But part of the come-on for Firefox Focus was that it was small and would take up no more than 4 MB of space on the phone.

I have the space for bigger apps on my 16 GB phone. And I know that 32 GB is considered small these days, but I try to pay or less for a phone, and that means 16 GB of internal storage. Maybe a 32 GB phone will cross into my price range during this year's Black Friday. (We try to get a Black Friday phone deal in the sub- every year for the whole family, and I aim to double the phone's internal storage, or I won't do it. We went from 512 MB to 4 GB to 8 to 16 over the past four or five years. The fact that my phones are always storage-challenged has made me reluctant to install apps in general and redundant apps in particular, though with the 16 GB I am loosening up.)

The short version of all this is that I installed Firefox Focus, which has been available for iOS longer and is a recent addition to Android.

It is fast. It is also minimal. No tabs, no bookmarks. It puts up a notification as soon as you use it to forget its history. This all factors into the privacy and the speed. If it keeps me from being tracked in some way, so much the better.

I'm not ready to make it my default browser in Android, but I will continue to use it and follow its development.

Ethical dilemma: My livelihood is supported by websites that sell advertising, and I am somewhat unsettled by major applications that block ads by default. On the other hand, I'm disturbed by the amount of information that is collected, the extent of tracking and the unknowing intrusions into privacy that are all rampant in the service of targeting ads. I'm very, very close to supporting my favored news sources with subscriptions and taking advertising (or at least any guilt over blocking it) out of that portion of my personal media consumption. Plus I'm not blocking ads on any other platforms (principally Google Chrome on Android, Windows and Linux).

But: Am I feeling sorry -- in any way, shape or form -- for Google and Facebook and any revenue they may lose? No. They are doing more than fine as they leverage the hard work of others in order to make billions they don't share, giving "users," be they individuals or companies nothing beyond their "free" service.

Sign of the times: The fact that major applications tout ad-blocking as a key feature says a lot about where the Internet is today, i.e. not in a good place. I fear that the display-ad economy is a false one that will leave many disappointed, crushing labor-intensive news organizations under its fickle, giant-favoring boot.

Tue, 14 Jun 2016

I used Firefox a bunch

I've been using Firefox version 47 for the past couple of days. And it's been working well. This isn't for my day job, where I beat the hell out of the browser, but for "research" (aka looking things up) while learning programming.

Nothing cost $ .

I should probably give it a try for my real work and see how it holds up.

Update: Firefox did better than I thought but not good enough.

Slow rendering in Google Maps was annoying.

It couldn't handle Tweetdeck at all. Nobody would (or should) argue that Tweetdeck is anything but a mess. It is built with unwieldy amounts of JavaScript and delivers messes (or masses) of data. Trying to run Tweetdeck in Firefox was a parade of "unresponsive script" pop-ups that had me bailing out for Chrome within the hour.

I want Firefox to be competitive. I'd rather have fewer eggs in Google's basket. But my web production workflow is just too many windows of pain.

Wed, 13 Jan 2016

Revisiting GNOME's Web (aka Epiphany) browser

The Unix/Linux desktop environment GNOME's many components include a full web browser that used to be called Epiphany and now goes by the very non-Googlable name Web. Yes. it's a Web browser called Web.

Back in the GNOME 2 days, I used it a lot. That wasn't just the GNOME 2 days but the Gecko days, when Epiphany was based on Mozilla's Gecko engine rather than Apple/Google's WebKit.

In the early WebKit days, I think Epiphany/Web went downhill a bit.

Now I use Google Chrome much of the time, though I know in my heart that I shouldn't. I'm usually logged into Google Services for my job, and Google is getting into everything I do.

These days Firefox is just frustrating. Once I get 10 tabs open, it tends to hang when Chrome doesn't.

Maybe a basic browser like Epiphany/Web can help me. Maybe not.

I'll give it a try and let you know how it goes.

Update: Epiphany/Web works very well. I can't say for sure that it's "lighter" than Google Chrome, especially since it uses the same Webkit engine.

What I can say is that for general-purpose web-browsing, it is very fast and stable. And I bet Google is tracking me a whole lot less.

Epiphany is a simple browser. Like Firefox was in its early days.

It's well-integrated as a GTK3 application, so it'll look good either in GNOME 3, or (in my case) among all the other GTK3 apps I'm using in the Xfce desktop environment.

For search, Epiphany defaults to Duck Duck Go which bills itself as "the search engine that doesn't track you," and so far I'm happy with it. It's nice to have an alternative to Google, even in a Web browser using the same engine as a browser that is most definitely tracking you.

I'm not saying I will give up on Google Chrome, especially for my , but when it comes to personal browsing, I can see myself in Epiphany much of that time.

Fri, 30 Oct 2015

Fix for Firefox dark theme issues in GNOME 3

Hey Linux users, are you using GNOME Tweak Tool to choose the "Dark" theme, making your GTK3 applications dark and causing problems with white-on-white text in the Firefox browser?

I have. Even though I almost never use GNOME 3, I do have it installed, and the GNOME Tweak Tool's "dark theme" switch enables me to turn GTK3 applications like Firefox "dark" in their styling. Except that often you can't read text boxes on web sites because the "dark" theme turns the text white while also leaving the background white.

Read the rest of this post

Tue, 05 Aug 2014

How to get Google Chrome to stop crashing while running the AMD Catalyst driver in Linux

If you're having the same problem I am with Google Chrome crashing while running the proprietary AMD Catalyst video driver in Fedora 20 (or any other version of Linux), I have a fix.

My thought was that I could play with command-line switches to "trick" Google Chrome into running.

(Note before we begin: I think different distributions have different commands to run Google Chrome or Chromium in the first place. In Fedora, calling google-chrome runs the browser.)

I found a huge list of command-line switches for Chrome and Chromium from Peter Beverloo's web site and started looking it over and trying a few.

This one worked:

$ google-chrome --disable-gpu

Peter's page describes --disable-gpu this way (and links to this portion of the content-switches code for Chromium):

Disables GPU hardware acceleration. If software renderer is not in place, then the GPU process won't launch.

This means that I'm back in the Google Chrome-running business. I'll have to add this modified command-with-switch to my Xfce panel so I can run Chrome without the terminal.

And now you can, too.

Sat, 19 Jul 2014

Am I the only person who can't run Google Chrome under Linux with the AMD Catalyst driver?

Am I really the only person having trouble with the Google Chrome web browser while running the propretary AMD Catalyst video driver in Linux?

Just checking.

Wed, 25 Jun 2014

Google Chrome fails in Fedora 20 with AMD Catalyst, runs fine with open Radeon driver

I pulled the AMD Catalyst driver from my Fedora 20 system to do some tests. Among the things that started working: The Google Chrome web browser, which in recent weeks kills X while running under the proprietary driver.

It turns out that Google Chrome runs fine with the open Radeon driver.

As always, AMD Catalyst giveth (cooler operation, working suspend/resume) and taketh away (Google Chrome fails, trouble updating when driver doesn't support new kernels, general wonkiness).

Fri, 13 Jun 2014

Google Chrome ran on my Fedora 20 system a couple of days ago but does no longer

A couple days ago, there was a Google Chrome update, and for some reason the browser began working once again on my Fedora 20 system.

Now it's broken again.

It could have been a Mesa update in Fedora. Or something completely different. It could be the dubious AMD Catalyst/fglrx installation I have going, using Fedora 19 packages in Fedora 20.

Whatever it is, Google Chrome is broken again.

I even tried Spot's Chromium repo for Fedora. Chromium crashes X just the same.

Is it just me, or is anybody else having a problem with Chromium/Google Chrome in Fedora?

Wed, 11 Jun 2014

Google Chrome browser is working again on my Fedora 20 system

Google Chrome (using the Google repository because Fedora doesn't package Chromium) is working once again on my Fedora 20 system.

It had been broken for a few weeks. Whenever I started the browser, it would segfault and kill X.

Google pushed a new stable version of the browser today to its Fedora repository. I did the update, started Chrome and am now running it with no crashes and no problems.

Thanks, Google.