Molly speaks up… #18

…Firefox! – Firefox…?

what an animal…

The Firefox logo is kind of cute, you know. And with the arrival of Firefox 3.1b2 it has advanced to second place on my browser ranking list, which is quite good actually.


Firefox is one of the many browsers used for testing during any design-process, but one that's hardly ever used for actual browsing across the world wide web. Firefox is one of the good browsers that are available to us, and we keep it updated with the latest versions.

We see some statements about Firefox when we surf around between web sites and discussion-lists. Some are just promoting a good browser—which is fine, while others may look slightly “overloaded”. I thought it was about time I commented on it, so here we go.

the best…

Firefox is first – best – fastest. It has better standard-support than any other browser.” ― anonymous gecko

Ahem, not quite. Ranking Firefox in the lead when compared to “any other browser”, is a bit too optimistic, me thinks.

If, on the other hand, such a comparison is made only between Firefox and the most used browser at present time, then I'm not the one to argue.

I will argue quite strongly against any serious ranking-efforts amongst the best browsers, as long as none of them offers full standard support. Pushing for much needed improvements across the board, is more important than ranking them at the moment – in my opinion.

facts about speed and rendering:

In an attempt to gain apparent speed, they've made Firefox cut corners. True rendering isn't one of Firefox' built-in priorities it seems.

Firefox' rendering of slightly complex and detailed pages is often based on what looks like pure guesswork rather than true interpretation of the code it's served. Having to reload such pages in order to get it right isn't helping much on actual speed either.

I have noticed some improvements – apparently less guesswork involved – for the latest versions in the 2.x series. Noticeable slower but also definitely more reliable. Looks even better in the 3.x series, but it has lost rather than picked up speed.

Lack of speed and stability are some of the reasons I don't use Firefox for day-to-day browsing. Firefox' weaknesses may have something to do with which OS the browser is running on and machine-resources made available to it, but after having tested and compared browsers on win2K, winXP, Vista and Ubuntu on pretty capable machines for a while, I have found that I have to be a bit careful not to push Firefox too hard on any of them.

Firefox tends to slow to a crawl and even “explode” after a while if I don't load it lightly, so I have to shut it down for a restart quite often and otherwise not load it too hard with too many open tabs and tasks. These weaknesses shouldn't cause problems for the average Firefox user, but I'm not the only one who have run into them so they seem to be real enough.

lagging behind…

“If Firefox isn't best, then what browser is?” ― anonymous gecko

Stupid question, really, since even the best browsers have strong and weak points. Thus they will lead or fall behind depending on each user's preferences, and this can be argued back and forth forever without reaching concensus.

We may of course run them all through the ACID2 test and ACID3 test just to settle it for the sake of some web designers. However, few real world users have those tests as benchmark, so how well a particular browser passes, or not, doesn't really matter all that much.

I expect all major browsers (maybe with the exception of Internet Explorer) to pass the ACID2 test test in the not too distant future. However, they will probably all still be buggy and lack standard-support, so I don't think that test is of much use for ranking. It certainly is a useful test for browser-developers though – if they make proper use of it.

Firefox seems to be lagging behind on the mentioned test, but that's not a real problem. A bit worse that Firefox is lagging behind on complete and somewhat bug-free CSS2.1 support though. That's visible to everyone even after workarounds have been applied. Not very impressive.

facts about standard-compliance:

This page couldn't be coded in accordance with parts of CSS2/CSS2.1 standard that Firefox is supposed to comply with. I'm talking about a simple margin-width calculation here, which Firefox isn't doing in a buggy way – it simply isn't doing it at all. This is still true for the latest Firefox 2.x as far as I can see, but seems to have been fixed in Firefox 3.0b1.

Workarounds for Firefox aren't destroying anything in other browsers, but it shouldn't be necessary to sneak around a standard-compliant browser in order to hide its weak spots. Not that I think a standard-compliant browser really exists or will ever be released – by anyone.

sorry, wrong number…

Firefox is best. Just look at the number of downloads…”
― anonymous gecko

Yes, and more than six dozen of those downloads have ended up on a hard disk near me. That'll only count as one user though – me, and that won't change no matter how many downloads we carry out around here. Those download-numbers don't tell me much.

In fact: all those downloads should really count as less than one user around here (if that is possible), since I haven't found any good reason to use Firefox for browsing lately. Don't blame it on me – blame it on Opera and something called “personal preferences”.

All we need copies of Firefox for around here, is to test that Firefox itself is working. We got other – more reliable – solutions for everything else.

facts about numbers:

If a few million users/developers download a few versions each over a time-period, then we'll have quite a few downloads that aren't reflected in user-numbers. Now, if numbers are important, can someone tell me how many Firefox-users there really are out here?

Just look at numbers for the most used browser at present time. And forget the word “quality” while you're at it since we all should know perfectly well that there isn't much of that substance in the most used browser at present time—despite the numbers. It's all about marketing, and that doesn't say anything about the quality of the product when brute force is used.

Numbers don't count either way when we're evaluating which and/or what is best around here. We frequently test available products for quality – not quantity and popularity. Firefox is not best at the moment. It doesn't have the qualities I'm after.

Want more numbers? Visit HowToCreate and virtuelvis for more on the subject.

something missing…

“People who use other browsers don't know what they're missing. Firefox has all these extensions…” ― anonymous gecko

People who use the most used browser at present time may not have much of an idea about what they're missing, so I'm partly with the anonymous gecko on that one. Not all of us are that ignorant though, as you might have found out already.

Extensions are fine, but the fact that I need to add extensions for that browser to work as I want it to, is actually a drawback. I prefer browsers that are born with such basic functionality.

Creating a “superbrowser” by including 100 extensions looked like a lot of fun. Still seems to leave Firefox without some of the basic functionality I'm used to in other browsers – if those screenshots are anything to go by, but I guess they didn't need those in order to create the test.

I'm not missing any of the stuff Firefox has to offer – extensions or otherwise. The reason is simple: I've got what I need with something to spare – in another browser. What a surprise...

about user-extensions:

Simple site-navigation through link-relations can be done through an extension in Firefox. Lynx can do it natively, Mozilla (or SeaMonkey) has a built-in option for it, and Opera has an option for the basics (which is a bit short, IMO).

Sitewide navigation without having to look for menus, “sliding doors” and “drop-downs” shouldn't be relying on extensions to be present in any browser. This basic functionality should be built in so we can actually use it and code for it.

about developer-extensions:

I have found some of Firefox' extensions for debugging web designs to work quite well. I can certainly see why so many developers like them and use them.

My main reason for not using (any of) them, is that I prefer to get as little “help” as possible when debugging markup, CSS or whatever. I like to know what I'm doing — not being told what any software think I'm doing or should do.

One huge problem is that most developer-extensions for Firefox are limited to what Firefox can understand and handle, which, in my opinion, simply isn't enough when developing for a cross-browser environment. The only limitations I may accept – for a while, are the incomplete state for some of the very web standards we build on.


I've been testing these Gecko-children since Firebird 0.6 came around, and can see the progress made in that timeframe. I've skipped most pre-releases and a number of minor version-upgrades since I'm not particularly interested in βeta testing, but have otherwise always included Firefox in the range of browsers my designs should work in.

I'll be using Firefox [Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.0; en-US; rv: Gecko/20081217 Firefox/] for backwards testing for a while.

The latest is Firefox 3.1b2 [Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 6.0; en-US; rv:1.9.1b2) Gecko/20081201 Firefox/3.1b2]. Downloaded 3.dec.2008.

My collection of new versions and updates continues to grow, so the people behind Firefox must be busy doing something that's useful for someone. Some of those releases are only days apart, to fix bugs and security issues. That's ok with me as long as such things are caught before they create problems.

Cuddly little thing that keeps getting cuddlier, and with the release of the 3.x versions the little gecko-child has finally got an improved engine (with more than 15000 improvements, they say), and it shows – a lot.

That Firefox 3.1b2 comes with dynamic support for media queries – finally – is a definitive pluss, and this alone lifts Firefox up from third to second place in our very personal browser ranking.

In practical user-terms: “smooth scrolling” is slow and not very smooth by default for this page on my PCs. The whole-page / text-only zoom works ok, and most other built-in user-options also seem to work.

As a designer I still find a few irritating deviations when comparing Gecko's CSS handling with that of other browsers. However, a number of these deviations can be explained away by unclear CSS specs, and just means there are certain things I can't do if I want Gecko in on the team of supported browsers.

the future:

Who knows … Firefox may become a really, really, good browser one day, if those behind it put focus on the right points during present and future development. I'll have a look at the next versions as they are released, and evaluate the progress.

No matter what: Firefox is beating the living daylight out of Internet Explorer 6, so one is well adviced to switch to Firefox if one is a regular user of that old “thing”. This hasn't changed one bit with the release of the latest and patched-up version known as Internet Explorer 7, and there are signs it won't have any real problems outclassing Internet Explorer 8 either.

However, one can never be sure of anything on the web, so the Firefox team better keep up the good work if they will avoid falling behind. That has happened before…

Personally I'll stick with Opera. I know what that browser is capable of. No “fan-boy/girl” tactics from either side have much of an impact, when one can evaluate the real thing. Constant software-evaluation produces the most reliable results.

Firefox can't beat Opera on quality if the present releases of these two browsers are anything to go on, regardless of what anyone may say or do. Of course, that's only a farm-cat's personal opinion, but this is a pretty well-informed farm-cat, you know.

We crush software for a living around here, although it has to be clearly stated that it is the usability-aspects of software (and hardware) that matters to us.
Close to 30 years with software (and hardware) of all kinds has made software-crushing a necessity – not a pass-time activity in lack of better life-options.
the author

Think I'll have a round-trip to the stables and ask for some warm cow milk. Got to keep up the good routines around here.
Besides: keeping an article on Firefox updated over a 3 years period, can make even the most dedicated cat quite thirsty.

sincerely  molly 'the cat'

Hageland 06.nov.2005
▶ last rev: 19.dec.2008

Molly speaks up…

Molly: …What do you think?
Molly: …Thought so.


  • introduction
  • Table of Content


  • this is PTL web-design
  • CSS sledgehammer
  • Lynx enhanced page
  • Print enhanced page
  • Projection enhanced
  • Small Screen enhanced page
  • validity of xhtml and CSS
  • html tidy
  • Opera and me
  • Firefox vs. IE
the usual
  • the author
  • Copyright
the unusual
  • Molly speaks up
  • more from Molly
the additional
  • Examples
  • Demo pages
external info:

... the author can not be made responsible for any harm done to and by this page and the rendering thereof, should the visitor be ignorant of all the hazards introduced by the use of any and all versions of Internet Explorer…
— Molly

promotion: haven't seen the web at its best before you have seen it through Opera. get yourself an Opera-browser
— Molly

wish list for Firefox:
  1. complete and bug-free CSS2.1 support.
  2. built in link-rel navigation.

That'll do – for now.
— Molly

Phoenix / Firebird

I kind of miss that Firebird logo.
— Molly

finally (representing all the others):
anonymous gecko

Thanks to the anonymous gecko for its invaluable contributions.
— Molly

older test-collection:
all wrapped up
tested: Firefox 1.5RC1 tested: Firefox 1.5RC2 tested: Firefox 1.5RC3 tested: Firefox 1.5 tested: Firefox tested: Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox
discontinued test-collection:
tested: Firefox 2RC3tested: Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox tested: Firefox tested: Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox Firefox
new test-collection:
continuing down the page
tested: Firefox 3.0b1tested: Firefox 3.0b2tested: Firefox 3.0b3tested: Firefox 3.0b4tested: Firefox 3.0.1tested: Firefox 3.0.2tested: Firefox 
3.0.3tested: Firefox 3.0.4tested: Firefox 3.0.5tested: Firefox 3.1.b1tested: Firefox 3.1.b2

This is fun, you know. — the anonymous Gecko

Molly's corner…
…2005 - 2008
last update: 19.dec.2008