Firefox 5

Mozilla Firefox word mark. Guestimated clear s...
Image via Wikipedia

I was planning to do a review of Firefox 4 when that came out a while back, but I just never got around to it. Thankfully, Mozilla have a new, far shorter release cycle for their browser so I can just skip 4 and move straight to 5.

Also thankfully, not much has changed from the previous version to this one, which is a bit of a shame really as we’ve become accustomed to long waits for big feature changes from the organisation.

Firefox 4 was quite a radical departure from the long standing version 3.5. They added their own version of Chrome‘s pioneering tabs-on-top feature, and changed the menus to make it far more sleek and minimal. It took a little adjusting to but it was definitely an improvement.

Along with the cosmetic change was the addition of HTML 5 support which in the future will prove essential as we move away from reliance on the proprietary flash format more and more. Another nice move was the addition of Firefox sync as an integral part of the application as opposed to an extension which in the past made it a fairly niche product. Now, everyone will be able to set up sync and enjoy having all of their bookmarks and other data on their mobile devices and other computers, which is a great thing.

For the real power users, they added app tabs, which in my view don’t really work out well in the end. I just kept having my gmail fail to update and cause issues. The same could be said about the new tab organising feature called panorama. This allows you to group your tabs into named sets which you can switch between. Most people will never need this and as someone who usually tries out everything new, I really think it’s going to be overkill for almost everyone. I just don’t see how it’s worth the effort for 95% of people.

Firefox 5 doesn’t do a lot of new stuff, at least not that you can see, which is in some ways a good thing. Security, standards compliance and performance are at the heart of this release’s improvements.

At the end of the day though, despite everything they’re doing, I just prefer Chrome. Every now and again I like to open Firefox just for a change of scenery so to speak, but I always go back to Chrome as my browser of choice. Everything that browser does just suits me perfectly. The new tab page just works, the way I can use the main search box to look things up on wikipedia just works and the clutter free design wastes no space.

As much as I appreciate what Mozilla do with open standards, supporting multiple devices including android among other things, I just like Google’s browser more.


Firefox Home Impressions

Firefox Home
Firefox Home Logo

Firefox Home is an iPhone app by Mozilla that is designed to accompany the Firefox Sync add-on for firefox. It isn’t actually a mobile firefox browser itself but instead allows you to see and search through your browser bookmarks, history and open tabs.

It works really well. The only real trouble I’ve had with it is remembering my secret passphrase which you need to login along with your standard username and password. When you tap to open a page, it opens in a generic webkit browser but you have the option to open Safari if you want to. It works well and it pretty snappy in performance even on a 3 year old iPod Touch 1st gen like mine.

I think there should be quite a large potential audience for an app such as this, as I don’t think that many people will have all their bookmarks copied across using safari. On Macs more people will be using Safari, and I’m not sure if you can sync bookmarks at all using iTunes on Windows. Even so, it’s not the most streamlined and quick method of updating bookmarks.

MobileMe is the only other real option that I can see for over-the-air bookmark syncing at the moment for iDevice users but it costs a fairly large amount for a subscription, and there aren’t really enough benefits to make it worth the price as far as I can see.

With that said, for the moment I think Firefox Home is an easy to use and well made free solution for wireless bookmark syncing. It’s definitely worth trying out if you’re vaguely interested in the premise.


Flock Browser: The Reunion

When Flock first came out there was a big buzz surrounding it and the browser seemed to be hitting at the right time to capitalise on the emergence of social media into the mainstream. I was a big supporter for a long time, even going as far as to try new beta test versions and all kinds of other things.

At the time I used to use it as my main browser. I loved the stylish interface, the great blogging editor, photo upload options, feed reader and more. Those are all great things, and they have a point when they say that the browser business has stagnated for many years without real innovation. The issue is that it’s not necessarily going to help most people by making an incredibly complex, bloated browser with all of these things included. Browsers can move forward technologically in other ways, while still providing a clean interface and fast performance, like Google Chrome does and to a lesser extent, Safari and Firefox. Internet Explorer, well I’m sure they’re innovating, but they’re doing it behind everyone else in a way that only the mainstream will use because they know no better.

After a couple of years of not using the social browser I decided to try it again out of the blue, just to see how they were doing and how the app had progressed in that time. Upon downloading and installing, I quickly went about setting up as many services as possible. I quickly became overwhelmed with the amount of options available and some of the account logins, especially Flickr didn’t seem to work and kept logging me back out, so it did feel a bit buggy and not really polished as you would like.

I think the issue Flock has now is that I think generally speaking, the web is moving forward within the browser window itself. Websites are becoming more and more like the downloaded applications of the past, and that trend is set to continue. Take Google Docs and Google Reader for example. They provide the same tools that we’re used to downloading, and putting them in a browser in a way that feels almost identical. Also take things like Gmail and Facebook chat and sites like Meebo. You can even do voice and video chats on Google and Meebo from within the browser. If you told me that was possible 5 years ago I would have thought it was a joke. If websites are looking and feeling like standalone apps, then why would you need app style integration within the browser itself? It seems over the top and unnecessary to me at this point.

Of course, not every task can be done currently directly in the browser, and sometimes you’re going to want either a separate application entirely, or a way to integrate an online service into an existing app. For example, iPhoto on the Mac integrates seamlessly with Flickr and Facebook for photo sharing. Flock does these things too, but when I tried it recently, it seemed buggy and intrusive to the intended experience, whereas iPhoto doesn’t intrude on your traditional experience of using those sites when you’re actually on the site itself. It merely provides a useful extension of a great service.

What I’m saying really is that while Flock does a lot of cool sounding things, you don’t actually need any of the things it does. For bookmarks I now use Google Bookmark Sync in Chrome as opposed to delicious. For blog posting I use Windows Live Writer on PC, which is a fabulous free tool by Microsoft that I’m using for this post and most of my others. On Mac I use MarsEdit which is also very good but not free. I could go on and list everything Flock does and the methods I use for each of those specific tasks. Whether it be simply going to the website, using an external app’s integration or another method but it’s not really important to the point I’m trying to make.

I’m not trying to bash Flock at all, I just feel that they’re building on a gimmick and layering too much stuff on top of the core browsing experience. Web browsers are evolving slowly, it’s true. But Chrome and Safari, Firefox to a lesser extent in my opinion are where you should be spending your time. I love how Chrome feels to use. It flows so nicely and the new tab page is useful without feeling extravagant like Safari’s does. The bookmark syncing feature was just the icing on the cake for me. It’s a brilliant feature that hopefully is the trend for all browsers moving forward.

Flock is a decent social web browser, but because everything is moving towards the browser anyway, every single browser is basically as social. I guess Flock makes you aware of the social options available, but if you have a well organised bookmarks bar and new tab page, you’ll get the same effect and it won’t overwhelm you with countless options you don’t really need.


Opera for iPhone / iPod Touch Initial Thoughts

After initially being surprised to hear that Apple approved this, I proceeded to download and check this out. First impressions were good. The browser is very fast, it definitely appeared faster than Safari on the first gen iPod Touch that I have. I like the Chrome style new tab page and the selectable and customisable search engines. However there are some big snags I’ve quickly noticed. On youtube and other video sites, you can’t watch videos at all in the app which safari does let you do.

Another downside is that sometimes the touch screen feels too sensitive in this application and sometimes clicks things when you don’t mean to while just browsing around the new tab page for example.

Using the double tap to zoom and panning don’t feel as smooth and well done as in Safari and there is no rubber banding effect when you reach the edge of the page. This isn’t exactly a fault but it makes it feel less like an iPhone app and the feeling of the page just stopping is a strange one to get used to.

Overall, there aren’t a lot of problems with this app. If you want a good, fast browser and want the advantages in speed and some functionality that Opera brings, then it’s a good alternative to Safari.

Normally I would be put off by the lack of a wikipedia search box or a new tab page in safari but I’ve been using it for so long now that I’m used to it and have adapted how I use the browser. Therefore, for me I’m happy to stick with the official browser for the time being.

With that said, I am very excited to see the possible future offerings from Google and Mozilla should they create iPhone versions of Chrome and Firefox.