Firefox: 16 versions later, still fails at the details

There once was a time in my pre-Mac days when Firefox was the only browser I would use. IE blew chunks (it mostly still does) and Google Chrome wasn’t even a browser yet, so anything to avoid the toolbar-palooza that was Internet Explorer was right by me.

Then came Chrome, promising per-tab processes to avoid crashes in one tab affecting the others and speed improvements even over the pretty-fast Firefox. In no time it became my go-to browser on Windows. Safari still had Chrome beat on Mac OS X, if only for the consistent UI with the other applications and at least equal performance. But Firefox kept me slightly interested throughout and every once in a while I’d install it and try it out again, only to go back to Chrome and Safari within a day or two due to any combination of:

  1. Ugly UI
  2. Performance (namely memory) issues
  3. Strange non-consistent behaviour with the rest of othe OS

For example, a few years ago, Firefox didn’t even make use of the native OS widgets for things like radio buttons, checkboxes and dropdowns. They looked pretty damn hideous on OS X:

Especially when compared to the Safari Aqua widget UI elements which were standard in Chrome and Safari.

Memory issues were always rampant with Firefox and whether or not they were directly to blame for the general sluggishness compared to Safari and Chrome was irrelevant; it simply felt slower and that’s all that mattered.

When Firefox 15 came out, I saw a few things in the changelog I liked: default tabs on top and a pretty nice looking web inspector for developers. They had already fixed most of the UI issues (including those hideous form elements) and things were looking up overall, so along came another attempt at using Firefox.

This is the longest I’ve stuck with using Firefox since Firefox 3, so they must be doing something right. Memory usage hasn’t gone over 350MB no matter how many tabs I seem to have open and along similar lines, FF feels at least equally as fast as Chrome and Safari. In some cases I think it’s got Chrome beat. Even better, their new web inspector is mostly awesome. The Responsive Design view option is incredibly useful and since I can never seem to find the Javascript debugger console in WebKit anymore, having quick access to it via the Developer Toolbar is a great time-saver.

At the same rate there’s still a few niggles that are making me slowly go (more) insane (than before).

Annoyance #1: Copying text from the web inspector

This is absolutely killing me. Take a look at what it does:

Notice the lack of Copy? It’s completely grayed out. Meaning I can’t CMD-C anything. Worst yet, I CMD-C anyway (forgetting where I can and cannot), and I get no indication that my copy failed until I go to paste my selection somewhere else only to find whatever I had on the clipboard before getting splayed onto my screen. Not happy.

In reality it’s not a lack of Copy at all; Firefox devs got overexcited and went with TWO types of copy instead… only they forgot to set a default.

The strangest part is that it’s really not that difficult to fix from a conceptual point of view. Simply do what every other application does and default the Edit > Copy (CMD-C) option to Copy selection. That’s what people expect and that’s what it should do. It should be as simple as connecting the menu option to the Copy selection function and yet it’s been like that all through the FF15 and 16 betas.

Annoyance #2: Default keyboard shortcuts

These are getting pretty damn annoying and they carry over from Windows. Rather than fitting in properly with Mac shortcuts, Firefox basically tries to enforce Windows-esque shortcuts on Mac users. For example CMD-LeftArrow results in going back a page. Except that in text-editors, that means put the cursor at the beginning of the line. So something as simple as clicking within or outisde of a text input area results in completely different behaviour. Even worse, Firefox does a poor job detecting if you’re within a text area with some WYSIWYG editors resulting in extreme annoyance. I could be typing along nicely when all of a sudden I decide to go back to the beginning of the line to edit something. CMD-LeftArrow and bam! Firefox goes back a page, only to lose every single thing I was typing in the text area. Awesome.

The same goes for the Backspace/delete key on the keyboard. In windows that means go back a page, so of course Firefox (which apparently still thinks it’s on Windows) does the very same. But if I don’t realize that I accidentally clicked out of the text box then, yet again, I lose everything I was writing.

Now, it’s not all bad. Firefox has some protection for this — it saves form data on every page (kind of like a keylogger) and restores it when I go forward again. Except that also fails on some sites (particularly with WYSIWYG editors). But in the end, should I have to rely upon that? No, because the keyboard shortcuts should simply behave like the rest of the Operating System: the way I expect them to.

The same goes for mouse gestures. I actually had to disable them because they were constantly being accidentally triggered for back/forward. If you can’t get them right (like Safari’s animation for this — it’s brilliant), then don’t bother enabling them by default!


I’m still using Firefox, so that’s gotta be worth something. The Developer Tools and zippy performance are keeping me hanging on. I wish I could say I switched back to Firefox and wouldn’t look back, but there’s enough frustration hanging around to keep me hesitant in my recommendation to others. Here’s hoping beta 17 starts to behave more like the operating system it resides upon, otherwise I might be trapsing reluctantly back to Chrome once again.

Leave a Comment