Sunday, April 26, 2009


I'm typing this on my Eee and pretty soon I'll be doing final packing and heading out. When I set up the Eee, I installed Firefox but never installed Opera, for one reason: Firefox's support for Delicious bookmarks is fantastic while Opera's is limited to a "bookmark this site" button on the toolbar and the option to go to the Delicious site to run links from there. (Which is enough sometimes.) But since the Eee is a secondary computer, just using Delicious makes sense; and since Firefox handles Delicious so nicely, I thought I'd give it a try.

Well, I am so very much liking how Delicious replaces my bookmarks menu in Firefox that I've been giving thought to the idea of switching over from Opera to Firefox. But I would have to find ways to address the many things that Firefox doesn't do as well as Opera. With help from a friend, I've gotten a few plug-ins that go part of the way. Mouse Gestures Redox does a pretty good job of doing mouse gestures. The Delicious plugin doesn't exactly mirror Opera Sessions, but for my purposes it does what I needed from them. Tab Mix Plus adds a lot of missing features, and some of them are such a perfect echo of Opera's settings that I conclude the authors must have used Opera. A page zoom plugin also looks like it was written by an Opera fan. And a few additions to the search engine pulldown round out the tools.

However, I am still finding a few limitations very annoying. They're the kind of things that if you never had them you probably won't miss them but once you had them you wonder how you lived without them.

One of them is a setting in Opera that said to never reuse tabs. Say I've got this blog editing window open and I want to go find a picture to insert into it, so I go to the Bookmarks menu to grab a page that has some good pictures, or use the search engine box to search for an appropriate image. In Opera, it would sensibly open the new link or search results in a new tab. In Firefox, no matter how many options pages I go to to tell it to open things in new tabs, it will replace the tab I'm in, possibly losing what I was typing in the process. (After writing this paragraph, I still very nearly did that very thing.) What is one action in my mind becomes multiple steps and something that I have to remember to do, with possibly bad consequences if I forget. If you've always done it that way you probably think it's pretty crazy to even grump about it, but once you've done it as one step, you would wonder why anyone ever designed a browse to work any other way. This one is going to be very hard to get used to.

(Ironically, Firefox can handle extra links as new tabs the sensible way automatically when they come from external applications, at least with Tab Mix Plus. Obviously if you click on a URL in an email, you don't want it to replace what you were doing in Firefox. If that's so obvious, why isn't it obvious you might feel the same from inside Firefox too?)

I'm also very disappointed in how Firefox refuses to memorize passwords on some sites, and nothing I can do makes it change its mind. On some sites it won't even memorize the username. There's probably a plug-in that will supplement the built-in password memorization, but probably that'll mean I have passwords in two different places, which is silly. More research is required.

Firefox's ability to block images is also pretty poor. I can only block every image from an entire site, at least when I right-click on images. Maybe there's something somewhere else that lets me block more selectively, or some add-on, but it seems clunky and limited. Opera's content blocking had an awkward interface (you didn't just right-click and choose an option, you had to go into a "block content mode" to block and unblock) but it sure was nicely functional.

During the next few days I'll be using Firefox exclusively on the Eee and I will no doubt be making a list of other things it does poorly. Add-ons are the only hope to fix it. Add-ons are a blessing and a curse: they allow Firefox to be infinitely more customizable and extensible than other browsers, but at the cost of cutting into its reliability, its stability, and the simplicity of use -- if you have to start thinking about whether your add-ons are compatible with one another and with the latest version of Firefox, it's something you wouldn't have had to think about at all in a browser like Opera where all that functionality is built in and tightly integrated. So my goal will be to find the smallest number of add-ons that make Firefox able to do everything I feel I need. If I can do that to my satisfaction, Opera may be being retired.

Kind of silly that Delicious is what made me finally tip that balance.


litlfrog said...

I'm curious as to why selective image blocking is so important. That may be because it's something I just never do, but at what point in reading a page do you decide to block an image and what benefit does that give you?

Hawthorn Thistleberry said...

Image blocking isn't a showstopper but it's sure nice. Ad blocking is only the most obvious use, and whlie many ads will be on a site that is nothing but ads, certainly not all ads are. You can't block all images hosted on a site like Yahoo because of a few ads, so you have to endure all of them.

I more commonly use image blocking to block things I find annoying, whether that's an ad that happens to be especially garish or more simply something like an annoying image in someone's signature, or an annoying lolcat, or sometimes just an image which is so wide it makes the rest of the page unreadable without tons of left-to-right scrolling or shrinking the entire page.

One very clever trick I use it for is on the RPGnet forums. The skin which they offer is terribly hard to use if you just want to skim for selected threads: the threads you have replied in, for instance, have an icon that barely stands out from the ones you haven't. Block certain thread icon images and the forum becomes a hundred times easier to skim. Since I don't read 95% of the threads there, this makes it a lot easier to follow. This is just an example of the kind of clever tricks you can do when you can block precisely what you want to block, instead of as imprecise a tool as everything on a particular server or nothing at all.

It's nothing I can't live without, it's just another point in the "con" column.