After a mammoth year long wait, Firefox 4 has finally shipped. During this period, there have been several versions of Google Chrome released, a new Internet Explorer and even a new version of Opera.
Without doubt, Mozilla has been complacent in shipping a new version of Firefox. A year is an eternity in the technology world for a new version of a product and Mozilla recognises this by promising to move to a faster, more nimble release cycle with Firefox 5, 6 and 7 pencilled in for 2011. Meanwhile, development of Chrome has stepped up a gear and in the absence of a new version of Firefox, Goggle has been quietly stealing market share under the noses of Microsoft and Mozilla.
The good news for consumers is that the emphasis on Browser functionality, thanks largely to Chrome, has been put firmly back onto speed and performance. All four browsers are now focusing on how fast the user experience is which is what we’ve wanted all along. Never mind sticking an email client or useless proprietary style standards into a browser, it doesn’t render pages quick enough, it won’t be used.
So how do the new offerings all stack up from when I last looked at the main browsers a year ago? (see http://grumpybear.blogsome.com/2010/04/14/browsing-for-browsers/)
Still the speed demon and still beautifully sleek and minimalist, new releases of this super quick browser have been churning out nearly every month. This just goes to show how serious Google are about capturing the lucrative browser market. Chrome now has a built-in PDF viewer and Flash support, both a welcome release from having to use the crapware from Adobe.
Annoyingly however, it’s still a CPU hog and there is no integrated search-as-you-type functionality with Google saying, rather arrogantly, that it will never be a feature of any future Chrome release despite the huge clamour from users. Nice one guys, whatever happened to listening to your customers?
In other places Chrome hasn’t improved much at all. In particular, showing bookmarks still involves burying far too deeply into the UI if you don’t know the keyboard shortcut whilst the horrid Google updater auto installs itself on any other browser you have running, surely a gross violation of privacy that Google has disregarded with its usual contempt.
Welcome back boys, it’s been a long time and you’ve almost got it right. In a measure of how influential Chrome has been, Firefox now sports an equally minimalist interface (that can be switched to the older UI if required) and is much quicker than the older and bloated version 3 release.
It still feels a little sluggish though and with good reason; the install has ballooned considerably. The stupid bloody places.sqlite file is now a whopping 10MB in size and increases in 10MB increments to accommodate more data as required. This sole change at a stroke has pretty much killed off Firefox 4 for the corporate market where roaming profiles with capped space are common.
Gone too are all the useful options to limit how long history is saved for, these are now handled via the about:config setting which is just plain daft. There is not a single person I’ve spoken to who can think of any conceivable and rational explanation to keep a history for more than a few weeks at the most.
Elsewhere though Firefox 4 is much better. Tab management has improved and the GUI, whilst fresh, is still familiar. I’ve also found this latest version to be more stable than Firefox 3.x and I like the resume previous browsing session link when you first start. Overall then, a step in the right direction but we can’t be waiting another year for the next version.
Internet Explorer 9
Microsoft managed to get Internet Explorer 9 out before Firefox but this latest version of IE is as irrelevant as the previous versions. The big problem with any new IE is that it seems to think the older versions of IE are its sole competitors. Hence, it’s no surprise to see that IE 9 whilst quicker than IE 8 is still slower than Opera, Chrome and Firefox. Similarly, features that Microsoft is trumpeting on their new browser such as address bar searching have been available for years on both Firefox and Chrome.
As with Mozilla, Microsoft have chosen to copy the minimalist design of Chrome so that web pages take up virtually the whole browser window. Additionally, there is also a new tab feature that shows the most popular sites you’ve visited, again just like Chrome!
Irrespective of whatever new features are available in IE9 though, there is one glaring omission that kills it stone cold dead before the starting gun has even fired; it’s not available on XP. Yes that’s right, in a desperate attempt to try and drive more people towards the spectacularly crap Windows 7, Microsoft has decided not to release IE 9 for XP. There are so many things wrong with this stupid decision it’s difficult to know here to begin. Let me offer up just two points though.
Firstly, XP still has the largest market share of all Microsoft OS’s at more than 50%. By refusing to release IE 9 for XP, Microsoft have already lost over 50% of their audience. In contrast, Windows 7 has managed only a feeble 25% that isn’t about to suddenly increase, least of all in the big corporates who have absolutely no intention or incentive to upgrade to a more bloated OS that demands even more ludicrous hardware requirements.
Secondly, nobody in their right minds will even think about upgrading from XP to Windows 7 for the sake of a poxy Microsoft browser when the likes of Chrome, Opera and Firefox will happily run on XP and far quicker too than IE 9 ever will on Windows 7. Nice one Ballmer, another f**k-up to add to your burgeoning collection.
I was a fan of the previous version of Opera that managed the seemingly impossible task of being lightning quick without hogging the CPU. This latest version builds upon that and is better with improved page loads that seem even faster than Chrome. There are still all those tweaks you can do under the hood, easily accessible too and the latest version of Opera also supports extensions which will surely evolve into a thriving eco-system to plug those features you miss from other browsers (I need an AdBlock for Opera dammit!).
The search-as-you-type feature on Opera is very well implemented as it highlights all the words matching the search term entered so you don’t have to cycle through them all like in Firefox. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat tempered by the required forward slash search prefix which I’m not convinced is entirely necessary.
Opera 11 would be my browser of choice but for a few annoying quirks. It still doesn’t render pages properly although I think this is more to do with sloppy coding (take a bow Yahoo and eBay) rather than Opera.
Worse still, after all these years and countless other browsers implementing a common standard, Opera STILL refuses to provide a simple setting to hold control and click a link to open it in a new background tab. There’s absolutely no need for not providing this well documented and often requested shortcut given that virtually every other browser, major or minor, uses the same convention. It’s getting silly now so sort it out!
So what choices does that leave then?
Firefox 4 is my everyday browser at home. It’s quick, less bloated, although it could do with losing more weight and has a rich collection of extensions available. Chrome is still far too nosy, intrusive and arrogant plus, athough it’s fast, is still a CP
U hog first and foremost. I mean really, just how much processing power does it need to render a damn HTML page with a bit of Javscript for f**ks sake?
However, Opera, Chrome and Firefox 3.6 will remain on my work PC to mess around with, Firefox 3.6 in particular since installing version 4 is impossible due to that big butt places.sqlite file.
As for Internet Explorer 9, it can sod off back into oblivion and hopefully take Windows 7, Zune, Office 11 and all the other Microsoft shit with it too.