Friday, March 11, 2011

Back to the Fox Perhaps?

Previously a long time Firefox user I switched to Opera almost exactly one year ago. At the time I felt that Firefox looked and felt old fashioned and I was immediately attracted by the sleek modern look of Opera. After getting sick and tired of managing Firefox add ons I was further seduced by the fact that Opera has so many useful features as standard, features such as  speed dial and tiled tabs. It was only after I started using the browser though that I realised the real killer feature of Opera is its unrivalled cross platform support. At the time Opera was quite simply the best mobile phone browser you could get with features like tabbed browsing, server side compression and really good page reformatting. On top of all that Opera link allowed me to synchronise the browsers on all of the computers I use (currently three desktops, one laptop and one phone) automatically porting bookmarks and speed dial settings between them. I have become so used to this interconnected way of life that that this one feature has become the single most important thing that I now want in a browser. I cannot contemplate going back to a world where I use different unlinked browsers on different devices.

There are disadvantages to Opera unfortunately. The spectre of web page incompatibility always remains. It is rare but it does happen and often in the most annoying way. Most commonly it is interactive pages and forms which give problems. I have lost information typed into web forms because the form turned out not to be fully compatible with Opera. A number of important services that I need to use for my work are not fully compatible with Opera either. Opera mobile on my new Android Smart phone was also a bit disappointing. It isn't bad it just isn't really a step forward from the Opera mini I was using on my Symbian phone a year ago. Tabbed browsing for example is awkward, slow and prone to hanging.

Enter Firefox 4 (currently at "release candidate" stage). It has a much sleeker cleaner look than the one I had become so tired of with Firefox 3. Crucially it now has the ability to synchronise Firefox settings across computers! It doesn't have a speed dial feature  but it has an App Tab feature that allows you to store commonly used web pages in permanent app tabs and I think I can use that as an alternative. Firefox browser for Android is also coming along nicely. It has a far better implementation of tabbed browsing than Opera mobile. Opening a link to a new tab in Firefox  does not switch focus and does not hang the phone while the new page is being loaded, two peculiarities of Opera mobile that render tabbed browsing far less useful than it should be.  Firefox Android is not perfect however. Page rendering is inexplicably slow - to the point where you can see it drawing as you scroll across the page. Page reformatting for the small screen is also a lot poorer than Opera from what I have seen so far. Hopefully the open source nature of Firefox will allow these issue to be addressed quickly. The big selling point of Firefox of course is the terrific web page compatibility that you get from using one of the most popular browsers on the planet.

In the past I had a love hate relationship with  Firefox extensions. I loved the way you could get the browser to do anything you want but I hated the fact that every time I started the browser there was some extension or other demanding to be updated. Keeping extensions in sync between different computers is also a pain. This time around I want to avoid extensions as much as possible.

Will I return to the Fox? That remains to be seen. I am certainly going to try it out for a while. If it gives me the interconnected web browsing experience that I enjoyed with Opera but with fewer compatibility hiccups then I may well switch back permanently. 

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