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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.

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.

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Fri, 17 Aug 2012

The Firefox ESR -- aka Extended Support Release -- is what CentOS (and most likely RHEL) is using

Firefox in CentOS (and by extension Stella) right now is version 10.0.x. I wondered why.

Well, it's because those very-long-term support distros are using the Extended Support Release of Firefox. Read more about ESR here, here and here, and if you want to try the ESR version of Firefox, start here.

Wed, 13 Jun 2012

I just installed Iceweasel 13 in Debian Squeeze

I finally got Iceweasel 13 installed out of the Mozilla Debian APT archive on my Debian Squeeze system. For at least a week I've been stuck on Iceweasel/Firefox 12 due to dependency issues. dWhile a Debian Forums article didn't provide the exact solution to my problem, it did give me a clue:

Reinstall Iceweasel.

I did that, and I got the new Iceweasel/Firefox as well as the needed dependencies, and thus far nothing appears to be broken.

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Fri, 13 Apr 2012

Firefox 11 has been crashy enough to get me using Google Chrome

Life is easier when I use Firefox. But lately it's been very crashy in Debian Squeeze. It often just freezes, and I have to wait, let it freeze some more and then finally kill it.

Thus I've been using Google Chrome more and more. It supposedly eats more memory over time, but it's much, much faster, doesn't bog down so early in my session, and pretty much just works.

That's what I need: A browser that doesn't slow down to nothing. I'd like that browser to be Firefox (aka Iceweasel in the Debian world). But now that browser is Google Chrome (and could very well be Chromium when I move to Debian Wheezy).

Thu, 15 Mar 2012

Firefox/Iceweasel 11 a huge improvement? (Answer: No)

I've only been using Firefox 11.0 (known as Iceweasel 11.0 in the world of Debian GNU/Linux) for about a half-hour, but I get the feeling that it's a whole lot faster on the desktop than Firefox 10.

I'll report back when I've been using it for a few hours.

A few hours later: Nope, same old Firefox. After a few hours, it eats enough CPU and memory that you need to quit and restart.

The next day: My first Iceweasel start of the day and the thing hangs. I have to force-quit out of it. Lovely. I'm now using Google Chrome (and will probably be using freer, less-spyish Chromium when I upgrade to Debian Wheezy).

Sun, 24 Jul 2011

Mozilla still (quietly) updating Firefox 3.6.x series

Mozilla is already casting the enterprise market adrift with its stated wish to stop maintaining the Firefox 3.6.x series of the popular web browser in favor of charging through Firefox 4 right into version 5 and coming up on 6 and then who knows what.

Enterprises hate this. They need to build shoddy web-based applications against a browser, and if that browser changes, their apps will likely break.

Hence they need Firefox 3.6.x, if that's what they're building against, to stick around as long as possible.

No, no, NO, says Mozilla. We're in a development frenzy to catch Google Chrome, and we're upsetting the apple cart now for more goodness later.

The enterprise cares nothing for "goodness." It wants sameness, predictability and as little work as possible.

Can't say I blame them.

From a PR standpoint Mozilla is thumbing its nose at any enterprise users who decided to throw in with a browser that isn't Internet Explorer (and for large bases of users, switching browser allegiance isn't something that happens very often — and yes, they are where you, as an individual, were 10 years ago).

Despite all this, I still have updates coming to my remaining Firefox 3.6-running machines (of which there are more than a few, especially because there's not Firefox 4 or 5 for Macintosh PowerPC unless you count TenFourFox).

Yes, they all recently climbed to 3.6.19.

But if you can find the Mozilla Firefox 3.6 page, there is supposedly an end in sight for 3.6.x:

Firefox 3.6.x will be maintained with security and stability updates for a short amount of time. All users are strongly encouraged to upgrade to the latest version of Firefox.

If Mozilla wises up (and I hope they do), they'll continue patching Firefox 3.6.x for security issues for at least the next year if not two.

They don't seem ready or willing to do this, but I bet they're plenty able. Especially if they want to cement (and not rend) its relationship with enterprise users.