How many tails does your kitsune friend has?
"Kitsune are believed to possess superior intelligence, long life, and magical powers. They are a type of yokai, or spiritual entity, and the word kitsune is often translated as fox spirit. However, this does not mean that kitsune are ghosts, nor that they are fundamentally different from regular foxes. Because the word spirit is used to reflect a state of knowledge or enlightenment, all long-lived foxes gain supernatural abilities."
In the previous blog post I explained that I'm not completely satisfied with my Opera experience yet. A story that might sound familiar as Avencius originally started that way. So as expected by any user, I looked further and tried Firefox 2 as my main browser. From this sole experience (no Opera launches this weekend) I've learned of several existing problems in Firefox 2 as well as the positive side of using the second most popular browser.
No matter what I'll say, some people will consider it biased, as this is an Opera blog. However the main purpose of this blog post is to show how the world looks like if you're using Opera on the Mac and are evaluating to switch to Firefox 2.
Firefox 2 doesn't come with many features, which is the nature of its extensibility. However some features are included such as Live Bookmarks, which will add RSS feeds to your bookmarks folder. A nice idea, but it does defeat the purpose of RSS when it removes the nice teaser text of your articles. In this case actually you're better off with Sage or the implementation in Safari. Opera uses Mail (M2) to solve this, which is nice when you also use it for your normal mail.
Some people like it, I personally don't and turn it off, but Firefox 2 has a good form fill in system that will remember anything you put in. You can easily remove entries if you want from the specific field by deleted the suggested inputs with
SHIFT+DELETE. The password manager is not that interesting though, it can save the information, but it doesn't allow you to log-in with one click like Opera's wand. And more annoying is that it doesn't remember additional form control settings, like "Remember me" check boxes.
The download manager in Firefox is pretty straightforward, similar to Camino and Safari. It's a floating window where all your downloads are listed where you can see the progress, and choose to launch it, remove it or cancel it. Problems arise when you do not clean it up regularly as it will end up being slow and messy. I'm not really a fan of extra floating windows, as you cannot follow the progress once it's behind your browser window itself. So in this case you need an extension to have the download bars embedded inside Firefox itself. A nice solution until you download too much to fit though.
Tab switching is slower in Firefox compared with Opera, which might be due to the increased CPU usage (see the "Resources" section). On several occasions I also "lost" the reload button (using the default skin) on start-up. After hovering it, it reappears permanently. Another issue that I encountered is that sometimes some pixels get stuck in the personal tool bar (characters from a website after closing tabs?) which don't go away. Last but not least, sometimes the progress bar disappears, yet images and elements still need to be rendered... what's a progress bar when it's not reliable (this also happens for pages loaded in background tabs)?
We all scroll down, and in Firefox this really feels slow, actually it scrolls much slower than Opera and smooth scrolling wasn't even on. This last feature works perfectly in Safari (is it available for Opera?) but it totally kills your computer when enabled with Firefox on a Mac. This is probably an issue as it's a cross platform application. Looking at Opera's scrolling behavior, it does scroll faster by default, but not like native application.
Organizing bookmarks in Firefox should be easy, and often it is, but on more than one occasion it happened that deleting bookmarks/folders resulted in disappearing of them in the "Organize Bookmarks" window, but not in the bookmarks menu itself. Only after a restart did this get corrected. Is this just me or did other users encounter this problem as well?
Often said, and feels like a re-run, installing/uninstalling extensions and themes is a pain, it requires a restart every time... not a nice thing in the beginning when you explore Firefox for it's extensibility. Of course this becomes less relevant later on when you know, and have, the extensions that you want. Nice things of extensions are, well, extending basic functionality. There are a lot of extensions that emulate the standard features in Opera, including Speed Dial, but also stuff you don't find in Opera, such as Growl notification, the weather, a much more powerful FireFTP client (like SmartFTP). I can't stop the feeling that each extension, developed by a different person, throws in a different UI, making the complete Firefox experience inconsistent. I think Firefox Extension developers should follow some cross platform Firefox Human Interface Guideline to smooth this out.
To make things fair the situation was set as they were on a clean installation. No cache, no extensions, default memory, connection and redraw settings. Memory and CPU reads where done when they stabilized at a certain point, note that these results may vary on any machine. The test machine is an iMac, 2.16 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GB of 677 MHz DDR2 SDRAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GT 256 MB and a Seagate 500 GB, 8 MB cache, 7200 RPM hard disk.
On a first start with Apple's start page as the home page, Firefox uses 46.02 MB with 10 threads, using 0% CPU power. Opera uses 40.16 MB with 7 threads, using 0.30 CPU power. As many expected Firefox does use some more memory, but it's not that shocking much. Strangest thing is that Opera's continued use of the CPU, while there are no background tasks, like getting RSS feeds or mail? Now let's make it more exciting!
Lastly we close all the tabs, and leave one empty tab open. When this is done, clear all private data, meaning cache, history, cookies. Firefox now reduces itself to 63,63 MB with 9 threads and 0% CPU usage. Opera however is still 78.50 MB with 8 threads and 0.30% CPU usage. In this case Firefox reduces resources much better, thus making the older comments of Firefox memory leaks quite weak.
First of all cold boots, or rather, the very very first start-up of the application. I used bouncy bounces (each full bounce is about 1 second) in Mac OS X as the reference material for timing, not exactly a precise measure, but it does get the story to the main point, for the record both browsers had similar history/cache present. Firefox bounces 3 times, Opera bounces 10 times, more than three time slower. After quiting and restarting Firefox costs 1 bounce, while Opera takes 2 bounces. Clearly, and surprisingly for Windows users, Opera is quite a bit slower. Although secondary (and further) start-ups cost considerably less, theoretically Opera is still twice as slow.
As noted before as the very reason for looking around other browsers, Firefox is more and more supported as the secondary browser next to Internet Explorer. As such more and more websites work better in Firefox than in Opera. For me personally that includes my bank where addresses cannot be saved, as well as playing Dofus (a Flash based 2D MMORPG) where chat input cannot be send, and visiting Wakfu where text is not aligned properly. Often problematic pages are those with Flash, which are rendered best in Firefox. In fact there are some websites, such as my credit card company, and one of those web sites that render better in Opera, especially with positioning of text and table layouts.
Compatibility is one of the most important things, and yes the fine folks at Opera Software are working the best they can on fixing this stuff (without breaking it). But common users are not as forgiving as browser aware users, such as you and me. In fact this is one of those reasons why I keep recommending Firefox to my family. A revelation you didn't know, did you?
So what now?
Personally, I have no idea yet, but I'll you know more later. Firefox 2 feels sloppier than Opera at the moment, especially with tab switching, but the very reason that I tried Firefox is compatibility. This latter one is clearly, for my personal web sites, much better on Firefox. About the whole extension story, I actually don't use that many, and can work with everything that Firefox supplies me; it has a powerful pop-up blocker and features like Speed Dial are not that important to me (BitTorent, mail and RSS are done by external applications). However standard features like the download and password managers are much nicer done in Opera, and on occasion I do miss site specific preferences. Performance and resource management is a hard one; unlike all the stories on the web Firefox doesn't use that much memory as I thought it would, actually it can beat Opera is using less memory and freeing it up. Though what is noticeable is that Firefox uses more CPU power for Flash websites, although this number was quite unstable, it could also be related that the specific website did not render well in Opera at all. However most important of all, the CPU usage was never critically high that Firefox become unresponsive, though it can be related to the sloppy feeling when using Firefox.
I cannot wait to see and try Gran Paradiso Alpha 5, perhaps this responsiveness will get addressed in that release. At least Cairo should improve text rendering and perhaps even accelerate some heavy rendering stuff, reducing CPU usage. Against what I previously wrote, I don't think that XUL and adding Cairo and Places will be that much bloat. In fact I'm very happy with the way Firefox 2 uses memory on my machine, it's not that much and I don't think it will be noticeable when it's implemented. When alpha 5 comes, I might do the benchmarks again just for comparison.
Of course, just like any other good rebel browser user, I also look forward to Kestrel (Opera 9.5) which will introduce lots of rendering engine fixes (please work on Flash elements), improvements to mail (finally!) and hopefully they can bring down the start-up time on the Mac OS X platform. In comparison with Firefox 3, Opera does not need to work on features similar to Cairo and Places, because rendering is already ok and bookmarks/history system still work without any problems.
I could give everyone who has the same problem an advice: just chose what you like, don't go for popularity, open-source or being the underdog. Don't feel chained by decisions, never ever become a fan boi, and consequentially a troll ;)
Update: Apparently I'm not alone, even Ramunas, of My Opera fame, is trying out Firefox on Linux.