October 18, 2006
Now that Internet Explorer 7.0 is final, the browser wars can begin again in earnest. It's clear that users should upgrade, because IE6 is so ancient. Security concerns alone compel an upgrade. But should IE6 users upgrade to IE7, or should they choose an alternative?
This comment in a web forum recently summed up my feelings nicely:
I have no idea why anyone cares that much about their browser, or why they feel it needs to be some sort of contest. I visit websites, which I consider more important than what I use to view said websites.
I've used IE7 at work and Firefox at home for the last six months or so. They're both modern web browsers. I don't see a big difference between the two. But there are dozens of killer add-ins for Firefox that extend the browser in useful ways. The lack of a viable FlashBlock for IE7 is enough to make me switch.
It's not that Firefox is inherently a better product than IE7. It isn't. But Firefox has a stronger, more vibrant user community, and that ultimately makes it a better product than IE7. Which makes me wonder: is the community around a product more important than the product itself?
Community doesn't happen accidentally. And Microsoft hasn't done much to cultivate community around Internet Explorer 7:
Another area where IE7 has serious shortcomings is with add-ons that give extra features to the browser. Firefox has an incredibly rich community of developers creating extensions, and IE has nothing that comes remotely close to it.
Don't expect much to happen in the way of add-ons for IE7, at least for the foreseeable future. There are several reasons for this. A big one has to do with how add-ons are written. To write an add-on for Internet Explorer, you need to be a C programmer. To write an extension for Firefox, you only need to be able to write a script -- and there are far more people in the world capable of writing scripts than are capable of writing C code.
Microsoft is aware of the problem and says that it hopes to ultimately make it possible to author add-ons via scripting. But there's no timetable for this.
Beyond that is a cultural issue. There is a sizable community of people that believes in open-source as a movement and philosophy, but outside the confines of Microsoft, you won't find a similar community devoted to Microsoft. So you don't have people with the same fervor devoted to writing IE add-ons as you have writing Firefox extensions.
Microsoft doesn't seem to be doing anything to foster an add-on movement, either. The Firefox extension site, for example, is run by the Mozilla Foundation, which plays an integral role in the open-source movement. Microsoft's add-on site, meanwhile, isn't even completely run by Microsoft itself; it's a co-branded download library powered by CNET's Download.com.
It's clear that community support can make or break a product. But popularity can be a curse, too. Dare Obasanjo asks, what happens when your community turns on you?
A number of times while he was speaking, Tim O'Reilly gave the impression that extensions like Greasemonkey are examples of Firefox's superiority as a browser platform. I completely disagree with this notion, and not only because Internet Explorer has Greasemonkey clones like Trixie and Turnabout. The proof is in the fact that the average piece of Windows spyware actually consists of most of the core functionality of Greasemonkey. The big difference is that Firefox has a community of web developers and hobbyists who build cool applications for it while most of the folks extending Internet Explorer in the Windows world are writing spyware and other kinds of malware.
It'll be interesting to see if the Firefox community can avoid this pitfall as Firefox gains in popularity. But the benefits of a strong community are worth the risk; it's enough to make the choice between IE7 and Firefox a meaningful one.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Very interesting and sounds true.
I believe nevertheless that there are plenty of developer doing some funky stuff for IE7.
One thing missing is a central place for them to share there work. Clearly under CNET management IE Add-Ons will get nowhere: takes ages for an entry to be accepted and even longer for a version update. I am talking from experience with Inline Search.
A second point is that Windows developer seem to lack the ethic of there OS counterpart (maybe I am deluded). One example: a guy contacted us when we released RC1 of Inline Search stating he was an individual willing to put something personal together to include a Maxthon feature into IE7. We happily helped him only to discover that he was actualy doing something professional. Had he be straightforward in the first place I believe we would have helped him anyway. Now we look at every request for help suspiciously.
We are kind of trying to put something together with EIforge it is still very much early stages but if you want to check it out: http://www.ieforge.com.
I just did a google search for IE plugins and ran across Foxie. I haven't tried any of them, but it does appear that there is a small number of plugins available from the IE community.
FYI, Firefox is releaseing version 2.0 on Oct 24.
Main new features are built in spelling, anti-phish, and improved tabs.
By the time you made that comment, FireFox 2 had already been released. ;)
You summed up perfectly how I approach many products I've chosen but which other people feel are inferior. I use Windows not Linux or Mac. Because it's a better product? No, because there's MUCH more attainable user friendly software. Likewise, my next mp3 player purchase will be an iPod, because there are so many 3rd party products for it and communities troubleshooting it.
I reboot my work machine rarely, and I literally always have at least one browser instance running.
In the past, Jeff, you talked about how firefox never releases memory under these circumstances:
I'm curious if you're still having that problem.
Very good post, I agree with it a lot. However in my life I find that much software I use I don't use because of the community, but because it is written at a higher quality then other software. I suppose that is why I use a Mac, I don't have to deal with the disjointed windows experience (But I support it daily) and Linux is even more disjointed in the GUI. (Granted the command line is VERY nice and I enjoy that)
Windows has a lot more random bits of software for it, but there are so many places I have to look in order to find a setting that it easily frustrates me. Not only that but the amount of bugs in the OS also frustrates me.
Linux on the other hand largely makes up for all the GUI shortcomings by having an awesome community. And the sheer amount of software tools on linux is mind blowing. It might not be easy to use, but that doesn't matter because somebody somewhere knows how to use it and can tell me how.
It's been a while since I heard someone reasoning abou browsers instead of being a fan from hell and calling everyone else an idiot. I very much agree with dinah and bought my ipod instead of a (maybe) superior zen because i couldn't even get a carrying case for it. But I bet we're about to watch a bunch of firefox groupies and anti-ms fans post something like "Firefox rules, #$$#"3 Microsoft" anyway... as I was saying...
"Firefox rules" :)
Maxthon has a flash blocker built in :) that lays over your IE install.
I recently decided to give Opera a fair try recently. For the most part there is very little difference between my experience with Opera and Firefox. I don't use any of the extra features it offers me. However, I do use plugins Firefox has that Opera doesn't, and the most important thing is that Firefox is more familiar to me. Opera has lot's of tiny bits that are different, the biggest for me being scrolling.
There's nothing wrong with having the choice, the trouble comes when people don't realise it's a choice and seem to think they are right. As long as it renders fine and you're pretty much secure, who cares?
I couldn't agree more with your points. I've been an IE user for a long time. But recently firefox is gaining much usage :)
Mostly due to the fact that I don't need to C++ to write a plug in for firefox.
I think IE7 has better support for css than firefox currently has. At least for what I'm doing with it.
FYI, Firefox is releaseing version 2.0 on Oct 24.
Main new features are built in spelling, anti-phish, and improved tabs.
For the anti-phishing instead of taking the Microsoft appoach of sending the URL you are visiting to a microsoft site, firefox will download a list in the background and check your URL vs that. Will be interesting how well this works; while it does offer better privacy if that list gets large it could take some time to download.
The improved tabs is mostly stuff that you can get right now with add-in. It includes some things such as remembering what your tabs where at when the OS crashes or you do a shutdown, improved looks, and better management.
The reason IE continues to dominate (and will likely continue to) is that MegaCorps refuse to give up their embrace, extend, extinguish IE extensions (non-standard standards) in their sites. Both intra- and inter-net. Until one of those gorillas accepts FireFox as its default, M$ will continue to win. I didn't follow IE7 very closely, but wasn't there talk of more e,e,e? One way or the other, are there additional e,e,e in IE7? Did M$ adopt standards they've ignore previously (I very much doubt it, but one never knows)?
I'm going to chime in here since I spent quite a bit of this weekend writing drunken emails to my friends and family convincing them to switch to Firefox 2.
I have to say that Firefox 2 RC3 is by far the best browser I have ever used, and has so many well thought out usability improvements, I couldn't imagine anything better.
On the flip side, I downloaded installed and tried to force myself to use the release of IE 7. It started out with nothing but aggravation. Two crashes and a thrashing computer before I finally got the home page open. Then I had to answer a list of useless questions to try and configure the browser.
Don't get me wrong, I think IE 7 is a huge step in the right direction, but it's just too little, too late. Microsoft is now stuck in the "catch-up" game that is going to make it nearly impossible to come up with any real innovations Firefox hasn't already implemented. Everything is going to be a half-baked solution to try and make the claim "IE does that".
The extension model will continue to increase Firefox's market share and word of mouth may be the IE killer. Firefox rules because it just works. Even the RC is extremely stable and even if it crashes (usually my fault), you can recover right from where you were at.
There is no way that I can live without a browser that has mouse gestures. I loose my mind every time I'm on someone else’s machine.
So, community = plugins ? And buggy plugins using scripts ??
NO thanks !
I've been a Firefox user for the past few years. I used the Firefox 2 beta for a few months. Then I tried Opera 9, and it's not even a contest. Opera FTW.
There's another difference between add-ins in C and add-ins in script: security. Given that speed really isn't of the essence in an add-in, I would have thought that C is probably the worst possible language to choose in this context: every add-in is a potential buffer over-run vulnerability. Scripts can be carefully managed by some sort of run-time to control their behaviour.
Well, I'm still rather sour about how Microshaft Internet Explorer decided to pull a fast one on Netscape by integrating their browser into their operating system. But I guess I can let go of that now. =)
Fact is that Microsoft has been waiting too long to update their own browser. They've been off galovanting around, while other browsers have been busy updating their software periodically, like any other normal piece of software. What Microsoft has given us is too little, too late. I believe that Firefox is superior browser in many ways. And while there might be advantages by using IE7, I still believe the pros of Firefox outweight those of IE7.
1. Firefox typically loads webpages much faster.
2. Firefox is more secure.
3. Firefox is open-source, as this blog suggests, giving a community to build up its strength.
And I see now that IE7 has tabbed browsing. Although had Microsoft gotten to this earlier they would've kept some of their users. I personally recommend Firefox to everyone out there.
"is the community around a product more important than the product itself?"
Oh yeah. This is one of my two main considerations in evaluating software tools. As for the other...
All things other being equal, Open Source Software wins. Why? Because there are a million reasons why the maintainers of a software product might one day suddenly decide to stop doing so. However, if users have access to the sources, this isn't a fatal situation.
Even if that never happens, we can still fix bugs ourself when the maintainers are reluctant to do so. Note that I say "when", not "if". It *will* happen eventually with any product.
Straevaras, those are your personal opinions, if youa ctually look at the number of serious flaws Fierfox have had it's share as well.
I don't know what pages you load but saying Firefox loads pages faster is just ridicolous, in fact if I compare a random page it feels slightly slower in Firefox than in IE7 but that is my personal opinion as well.
Also, dont know what you mean with "kept some of it's users", well, firefox took a few percent but more than 90% was still using IE and I would say that firgure will grow now again.
This can easily turn into a browser war but it annoys me when Firefox supporters just tell people lies, it isn't more secure, it doesn't load faster, it has no features that IE7 does not have.
In fact IE7 now has more security features such as for example the phishing filter and the fact it automatically blocks sites with invalid SSL certs with a page instead of just showing a prompt. Just two small things.
T.E.D, there have been cases where serious bugs in open source software has been around for 20+ years (BIND) without anyone discovering it, the idea that open source means someone is constantly reviewing the software is ridicolous, it just doesn't work like that.
I'll have to disagree with you, probably based on our implicit definitions of "product". Certainly a default Firefox install is nothing to write home about: it's plain and feature-light, and the cookie manager in 1.5 is a train wreck. However, I consider the huge array of extensions, many of them high quality, a major feature of the product. It's because of all the design and infrastructure support for them, and the nurturing of the community that writes them.
While the Firefox, IE and Opera *renderers* may be essentially equivalent, the *browsers* as a whole most definitely are not.
My biggest reason for preferring Firefox over the others is precisely the availability of Adblock Plus and the Filterset.G Updater. They blow the pants off of something like Privoxy in speed and flexibility and put Opera's built-in solution to shame in functionality, and make browsing today's flashing-ad-infested web enjoyable instead of painful.
No other browser comes close in usability for me because of those two extensions. And I believe that their existence is a direct result of the design decisions that went into Firefox-the-product.
As far as I know, only Konqueror as a real adblock-alike plugin, but that one was late to the game and also feature-light, largely because Konqueror plugins have to be written in C++ and have a much larger learning curve than Firefox extensions.
...and there aren't cases where serious bugs have been around in closed source software for years? Look into SourceSafe, and get back to me. :-)
My point really didn't have anything to do with bugs though, at least not directly. Its about support, and being left high and dry. Call it "vendor lock-in", if you need it in business-eese. As long as you have legal access to sources, you *can't* be totally and completely hosed by the untimely demise of some person or vendor. You don't have to worry about your vendor getting bought by your chief competitor and deciding to quit selling to you, or jacking up your unit prices to make you less competitive.
If you ever deal in hardware, think of it in terms of using a PCI solution, versus using a solution targeted to some nonstandard vendor bus. If we need to upgrade our system in 5 years, there will probably be multiple new PCI systems around. If not, the standard is published and unencumbered, so I could at least have our hardware guys develop something. If I go with the nonstandard vendor bus, I'm totally at the mercy of the one vendor. No thanks.
I didn't know about the flashblock plugin until today. I installed it then went to Yahoo's news section to see if that incredibly annoying ad showing the dancing silhouettes was still working. Well, to my delight, it's blocked! Thank you Firefox!
"Main new features are built in spelling, anti-phish, and improved tabs."
Why do people prefer tabbed browsing?
To me, it just means you have to perform two clicks to get to a running instance rather than one: First click to get to the browser task, and then a second click to get to the correct tab.
Maybe I'm insane, but I feel that "group similar tasks" is the devil, and it's the first option I disable on a new windows install. Why would I want to add that feature to a web browser? Give me a double-row taskbar littered with tasks any day - I might not be able to read them, but at least they're all one click away.
Tabbed browsing seems like a step backwards.
Protection against the untimely demise of the owners of a propietary product is a very strong reason to use Open Source products.
But the converse also holds. The more of a securely monopolistic death-grip a proprietary interest holds dominance in any usage or market arena, the worse for everybody involved for a lot of reasons. Pricing, architecting for user lock-in rather than functionality or support (sound like somebody we know?), the obligation to use undisputably inferior software.
The beat goes on, the list goes on.. and on.. and on..
We (me included) in the tech industry somehow allowed an inferior product to take get de-facto monopoly control (or near-monopoly, for nit-pickers and MS apologists) over the desktops and notebooks and clients in our workplaces. Thank God we are holding the line at servers.
-- The browser situation is an important one. Like Grant Johnson said, we can use Firefox much more easily across platforms.
The Open-Source philosophy also automatically overthrows would-be dictators and would-be monopolists, and those who would otherwise force inferiority onto us.
For example, some writers say that Linus' personality is what helped Linux grow ahead of other open-source operating systems.
The central place to share IE plugins is:
I might actually use IE7 now since it has tabs but there are still a few hurdles that I run into from time to time.
Yes occasionally FF can be slow to load, but I have issues with IE just randomly not doing anything. Every time I get to a site that I HAVE to open in IE, because it only works there, I cringe (oddly I still come across several for my work).
I've also become very used to the middle-click function of FF to open and close tabs. I believe IE supports this to open links in a tab, but not to close them. It really all comes down to what I'm used to, and FF did it first, so I got used to their functionality first. I use FF's 'Recently Closed Tabs' feature almost constantly.
But recently as I've taken on a lot more CSS/HTML work and the Web Developer Toolbar and Firebug have sealed the deal for me with FF, there's just nothing on par with those tools for IE. I feel bad for my friend who as to use IE as his default browser because of the .NET coding he does. He constantly complains about it crashing and locking up.
Beyond that, no, there's not a vast difference in surfing in IE, Opera, FF or Safari. I will comment though that I just haven't found what people love about Safari. I don't like the way it uses Mac-Like UI elements for forms/etc. It constantly thwarts my efforts to browse in a quick fashion do to differences in the way Ctrl,Alt, etc are used between PC/Mac. And well, it still has a bit of a stigma for me from a few years ago when I would often try to use it on a friends Mac and it just didn't work very well yet.
As far as community goes, I don't know if anything Microsoft ever puts out will gain the type of community a product like Firefox has. Tech-savy powerusers with the ability to contribute to, add to and define the way a product will evolve. Some of it is the stigma around Microsoft, some of it comes from the multi-platform availablility of Open Source software and some of it is people just wanting to choose the underdog. I half wonder if FF ever gains 33-50% of the market share if some of those people won't jump ship and try and find some other obscure browser to endorse and improve.
I've tried over and over to upgrade to 7.0 on my Windows machine. I get some stupid, seemingly obscure error message about how I must tweak the registry, do the dishes, take out the garbage, learn calculus, get a Ph.D. from Stanford, learn how to code in Ruby and six other competing languages, brush up on Cobalt, and learn every version of Oracle in order to resolve this small, little problem with IE 7.0.
Crazy, I think to myself--and then I click on the link and am taken to a HUGE knowledge base article on Microsoft's site that pretty much says the same thing--AND THEY'RE SERIOUS.
10 inches away on my desk sits a MacBook Pro running Leopard that upgrades 99% of all its software flawlessly without a hitch. Browsers, the OS, even apps like Logic Pro 8 that take 3 hours to install.
Buying into the community is most certainly the way to go. This occurs in the gaming industry all the time. Very few companies seem to embrace the community in positive ways, EA being a massive culprit.
Some games survive well beyond their years via community (HalfLife being the best example, Total Annihilation as well and of course one of the originals Doom). Some games win out a clone war via ease of modding. (Red Alert 2, while a good game, would have been put to rest long before it was if it wasn't so easy to modify for online play) And some games explode well beyond their normal userbase size (World Of Warcraft anyone) because of it.
Heck.. even being socially involved with your community is a massive boon. (City of Heroes is an excellent example of an involved development team)
Why companies don't get that fact I do not understand. Is it too much effort to foster community? Is it the lawsuit madness America is involved in causing businesses to take a "it's our way or the highway" stance?
As far as FFox versus IE, I generally use FireFox primarily because of flash blocking addons. I don't like the design of IE in general, and FFox is much kinder to common html design problems. (weird div structures, unclosed elements, etc)
Of course you're right: the websites I'm viewing are more important than the browser I'm using. But when one browser makes things a pain in the ass, and the other lets me view websites easily and use a bunch of tools to help me do so, I'm going to go with the non-painful browser, which happens to be called Firefox.
I use Firefox too, but for a different reason. I swap off between operating systems.I have some Windows, some Linux, some Solaris. Firefox is available everywhere. I can switch to the platform I need for a particular application, and keep my browser.