Firefox 0.8 is the release that won me over

Posted by dave on Feb 9, 2004 5:47 PM
LXer; By Dave Whitinger

Has Mozilla Firefox finally broken the speed and stability barriers in order to bring about a browser change to this long-time Galeon user? After all this time, Firefox finally won me over and caused me to change my regular web browser.

Since I dropped Netscape 4.78 in late 2001, I've been happily using Galeon, a Gecko-based browser for GNOME. My web use is heavy (my days are spent in a web browser: reading news sites, developing PHP code, etc) and I need a browser that is stable and fast. Has Mozilla Firefox finally broken the speed and stability barriers in order to bring about a browser change to this long-time Galeon user?

My rule of thumb is this: the computer should try to be faster than I am. If I find myself waiting for the computer to do something, then I need to find out what's the bottleneck. My view is this: the bottleneck should always be the human.

Speed

As a result of the XUL language used for the full Mozilla browser suite, the slow speed has been its biggest drawback. The great features found in Mozilla, but missing in my Galeon, are not worth the additional wait time. Firefox (formerly known as Firebird) tried to fix the speed issue, but never got it quite snappy enough.

With the latest 0.8 release of Firefox, however, things appear to be changing. This browser version is not built with XUL, but with GTK2, a native toolkit for Linux, which gives a tremendous performance gain at the loss of portability. It is finally fast enough to be my regular browser, nay, it is the fasted browser I've ever used. It is actually exciting how fast it is. New windows snap open, the bookmark editor does not crawl, and local webpages load instantly. Firefox is a 100% winner in the speed department, as it has finally surpassed my Galeon in this area!

On a related note, a freshly opened Galeon used 120M of RAM, while a freshly opened Firefox used 86M. I don't really know exactly what that means, but a lower RAM usage number is always a good thing to see.

Stability

I've been using this browser all day long and I haven't had any problems with it yet. Previous versions have never gone more than an hour without crashing. I have not added any new extensions or themes, yet, and I expect that those will have the potential to introduce some instability. Still, the features on this browser are sufficient for my needs without adding any third-party extensions.

User friendly features

One nice feature seems to be a automatic installer program for plugins. When I visited a web page that contained an embedded Java applet, the system opened up a dialog box and offered to download and install Java 2 for me.

Auto-installer downloading Java (click for full image)


Automated installer screenshot

Alas, this feature did not completely work for me with the one plugin I attempted: Java.

LoadPlugin: failed to initialize shared library /home/drw/firefox/plugins/java2/plugin/i386/ns600/libjavaplugin_oji.so [/home/drw/firefox/plugins/java2/plugin/i386/ns600/libjavaplugin_oji.so: undefined symbol: __vt_17nsGetServiceByCID]

There was no automated uninstaller for plugins, that I could find, so in order to get rid of it, I had to drop to an xterm, change directory in my firefox/plugins directory, and rm the files.

Most plugins are shipped as binary modules, unfortunately, and thus might not be compiled against the same libraries that you have on your system. As a result of this incompatibility, the module may crash. For me, I am currently using White Box Enterprise Linux 3.0 on my desktop, and neither the Java plugin from Sun, nor the RealAudio rpnp plugin, would work, both complaining of undefined symbols. This failure is not Firefox's fault, it's Sun and Real Networks' (or, perhaps, my distributions) fault.

I think that if the plugin had worked, the automated plugin installer would have worked, too. It looks like a friendly (and necessary for some computer neophytes) utility.

The themes and extensions are as good as always, although the texturizer.net website is currently down from the heavy load that this recent release has generated, and their mirror was returning error 404s.

Smooth scrolling is no longer a separate extension, but is now built into the browser. To enable it, go to the Tools/Options/Advanced/Browsing and checkoff smooth scrolling. It's a nice touch.

There is no close button on every tab, which is a feature I miss from Galeon.

To import my bookmarks from Galeon to Firefox, I had to open Galeon, export my bookmarks as HTML, and then import them in Mozilla.

There are two image handling features that are missing. In Galeon, from the right-click menu, you can send an image to the Gimp. Also from the right-click menu, you can open that image in a new window (or in the existing window). Both of these features are missing, and both are sorely missed.

Some of the keyboard shortcuts are different between Galeon and Firefox. For example, when in Galeon you press Shift-Middleclick to open the link in a new window, in Firefox you must Shift-leftclick. There is no "fast scroll" (shift-wheel) that I can find in this browser.

Popup and Ad blocking

Popup works fine, and even gives you some notification when a website delivers one (something Galeon didn't do).

The ad filtering works as expected, giving you a "Block images" and then a "Accept images" options when you left-click an image.

Before:


Ad before
After (notice the missing ads):
Ad after

XFT and GTK2

Anti-aliased fonts are beautiful, and Firefox now has a version that is built against these libraries. The difference is astounding, as you can see from the screenshots below: (Click for a fullsize version)

GTK2XFT

If your browser looks like the one on the right, it's time for you to upgrade.

All told, this browser is an excellent piece of engineering and the Mozilla team must be very satisfied with the work that they are contributing to the internet community. It takes a lot to get me to switch software packages (I'm still using WindowMaker!), but after over 2 years I have finally found my new web browser.

(See also: The Tide Has Turned in the Battle of the War)

Return to the LXer Features

Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Alt-X to switch tabs? greensky 10 11,028 Feb 25, 2004 2:20 PM
Missing features. Not in Firefox, usable and found in Galeon zimon 4 4,112 Feb 24, 2004 11:51 AM
Another missing feature dave 1 4,022 Feb 23, 2004 3:54 PM
Right Click - View Image Jonah_Hex 1 3,415 Feb 12, 2004 11:27 AM
86 M? olivaw 1 2,239 Feb 12, 2004 11:24 AM
Close button on tabs joeyday 1 3,469 Feb 11, 2004 4:57 PM
Performance = Opera seier 1 5,200 Feb 11, 2004 4:55 PM
XUL correction dave 2 6,216 Feb 11, 2004 10:34 AM

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