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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.