Simon Miller Team : Web Development Tags : Web Development

Is Firefox Still Relevant?

Simon Miller Team : Web Development Tags : Web Development

Reading Engadget this morning I see that Mozilla has launched a new version of its new Firefox OS, the new platform it is hoping will (presumably) take on Google’s Android platform in the mobile marketplace. What I found interesting was not that Mozilla was developing a mobile platform. What I found interesting was that Mozilla was still developing.

I can’t be the only one that switched to Chrome for my desktop (and mobile) browsing experience and never looked back. Certainly not it seems when I look around our office and see that Chrome is – by a not so insignificant number – the leading browser of choice among our developers. Let’s look at the leading options: Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera and Internet Explorer.

Chrome is light-weight, has a simple and logical interface, great plug-in support and for me it rarely crashes. With the might of Google behind it, they’ve gone from the new kid on the block to 50% market penetration (depending on the statistics you read). For a browser that launched in the beginning of 2009, that’s a serious effort. The WebKit engine that powers the browser supports the greatest amount of CSS3 and HTML5 standards of the major browsers and has the fastest rendering of scripts, so your website is guaranteed to look and perform great. For developers, the built in Inspector is a god-send, taking the best parts of Firefox’s Firebug and streamlining it (the Network view is excellent, as is the User Agent impersonator).

Safari and Opera have extremely small user-bases of only a couple of percent each. Opera has been at the forefront of new ideas since its inception (tabbed browsing was an Opera invention) but, in my opinion, their implementations were just not slick enough to be day-to-day usable. The browser layout is confusing and became more confusing with each new iteration. Even Opera recently admitted defeat, replacing their Presto engine with WebKit. Safari is best left to those with default Apple Mac setups – the PC version is clunky and not worth bothering with when Chrome does WebKit so much better.

There is of course Internet Explorer, once the dominant browser in the marketplace, now doomed to fewer than 25% user install base. Ever since languishing with the abominable version 6 browser, Microsoft has tried to claw its way back to relevance and repeatedly failed. IE7 was no real improvement and still causes headaches for developers today that need to retain backwards-compatibility. IE8 improved things considerably, but still ran rather slow and could not fight off the then-winner of the browser wars, Mozilla’s Firefox. IE9 went passed un-noticed, which brings us to IE10 – the ‘We’re sorry, please come back’ edition bundled with Windows 8. Finally Microsoft have stepped up to the plate and released a browser that accommodates web standards and provides a speedy user experience.

That leaves us with Firefox. I haven’t fired this browser up in a while, to be honest. I had assumed that ‘if it works in Chrome, it works in Firefox’ so rarely checked my work there. Unfortunately, Firefox has started exhibiting similar strange CSS rendering issues that plagued IE7. The browser seems much slower than Chrome to render pages (Chrome’s pre-fetch really helps out here) and in my testing for this article it even crashed on me. Mozilla are desperately trying to play catch-up to Google, rushing out releases, evident by their taking of Google’s versioning system (Chrome is currently at v25, Firefox v19). The other annoying thing is some clients still request support for Firefox 4.7 – a major release at the time, now as relevant as IE6. This definitely leaves a bad taste in my mouth for Firefox.

Once the cool new kid on the block, Firefox is now the awkward uncle at the dinner party that stands in the corner drinking the punch and talking to itself. It will be interesting to see if Mozilla’s push into the mobile OS space will provide the help to the browser it sorely needs.