The online home for Greg Leedberg, since 1995.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Leedberg's List: Mozilla Firefox

I'm pretty serious about computers. I enjoy building them, and enjoy trying to maximize the usefulness of them once they're built. In this vein, I've developed a sort of "core" set of software that I install onto any computer right after it's built. This set of software is comprised of really useful stuff, some of which many people are probably not aware of. I'm always evaluating new software, so the set changes every now and then as I find software that's better and more useful than what I was using before.

So, I've decided to start a recurring feature called "Leedberg's List". In each post of this feature, I'll take one piece of software that I like and basically review it. Even though I use both Windows and Linux, I'm going to focus mostly on Windows software, since this will be of use to the largest group of people. At some point in time, I'll aggregate all of the posts into a separate website. If I run out of good software or get bored, I may also point out software which I evaluated and did not add to my core set. I hope that this feature is useful for people.

In this inaugural post, I'm going to point out a piece of software which most people probably already know about, but which I'd like to talk about nonetheless. I promise, in the future I'll talk about slightly more obscure software.

Anyways, I'd like to point out Mozilla Firefox. For those who might not know, Firefox is a web browser, and in my opinion is the best web browser currently available. I've used lots (Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Opera, Konqueror), but Firefox is the one I've stuck with the longest.

There are several things to like about Firefox. For one, it has very good privacy/ad controls built right in. You can turn off annoying popups, turn of JavaScript that maximizes windows and so forth, control cookies (if you really care to), and so on. It really puts you in control of your browsing experience. This was my number one problem with Microsoft's Internet Explorer competitor. I felt like while I was browsing the web, this one program was in contorl of my computer: popping up windows, minimize, maximizing, and closing windows, playing sounds. A web browser is just an application, it's not supposed to define your entire computing experience. I know that IE is better now, but they pushed me away and now I just have no reason to go back.

Firefox also has tabbed browsing. Tabbed browsing is the sort of thing that doesn't seem useful until you start using it. Basically, within your browser window you can have multiple web pages open, and each one has a tab along the top of the browser. You can open a link by middle-clicking on it, or open a blank new tab by putting the correct button on your toolbar. Yes, the Windows taskbar handles some of this functionality. But, when looking up answers to questions and researching products I frequently will have a dozen or so pages open. It would be a nightmare to manage all of them on the taskbar. Having tabs within Firefox makes it a breeze.

Another of Firefox's most useful features is find-as-you-type. If this is enabled, while viewing a webpage you can just start typing and Firefox will search for the text as you type, incrementally. No need to go through menus in order to perform one of the most frequently used functions of a web browser.

Firefox also has a search bar right next to the URL bar. You can choose which search engine it uses, but by default it is Google. Just type a search query into the box and get your search results right away.

Firefox also supports RSS feeds right in the bookmarks menu. If you visit a site that has a site feed (such as this one!), an orange box will appear in the lower-right corner of the browser. Clicking on this will allow you to add the feed to your bookmarks menu, from where you can see any new entries. Really useful to have this integrated right into the browser if you frequent sites with feeds.

Lastly, Firefox is much more standards-compliant then most others. This may not mean a lot to many people, but it does if you are a web developer. Standards are what keep individual companies from controlling the global web. By supporting and using standards-compliant browsers, you keep control of the web out of the hands of proprietary companies.

In the end, I really like Firefox. It has a more modern look and feel than the aging Mozilla suite. It's also just a web browser, which is good if that's all you want --if you want full web-email-newsgroup integration, Mozilla's not a bad choice. It offers all the features of IE, but also some extras, and is more standards compliant. Opera is good, but last I used it there were too many compatibility problems with some sites. It may have improved since then, but much like with IE, I have no desire or motivation to switch away from Firefox. It's just a really good all-around browser.