Monday, May 19, 2008

FireFox 3

Today I did something surprising: I made FireFox 3 my default browser. Like nearly everyone else I know, I stopped using Netscape nearly twelve years ago, when IE 3.0 came out. Since then, I've taken a peek at other browsers on a regular basis, but none of them has ever offered me a compelling reason to switch. Up until the last year or so, this was because (in my opinion) IE maintained a comfortable lead in features and performance over its competition. Over the last year, as IE's lead in features and performance slowly dwindled, it's mostly been because the majority of websites were written around IE, and FireFox just didn't work as well.

All that has changed with the impending release of FireFox 3.0. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, FireFox 3 has been in beta for some six months or longer, and during that time it's progressed from being a fast and capable alternative, to being the fastest, most capable browser around. I've used Opera, I've used Safari, I've used IE 7 and IE 8 – and there's nothing like this latest Mozilla incarnation.

My own subjective experience with FF3 is borne out by the testing that Adrian Kingsley Hughes has been doing over on ZDNet. His testing shows that that FF3 is almost 10 times faster than IE7 on the same benchmarks:

What's more interesting, however, is what this indicates about Microsoft's declining ability to develop quality software. The earliest public beta of FF3 was already more stable than IE 7 after a year and a half of patches. The earliest beta of FF3 was faster than its predecessor; the first beta of IE8 is a bloated, unstable monstrosity that somehow manages to be even more slow and unstable than IE7. Every FF beta was released simultaneously on dozens of platforms; IE7 runs on XP SP2 and Vista, and under the hood is almost a different browser on each platform.

There are currently two use cases that I still need IE to support: Outlook Web Access (which supports FireFox, but only by degrading very ungracefully), and uploading batches of pictures to Picasa through the browser (rather than through the Picasa client). So I'll keep IE installed. But I plan to use it as little as possible.

Something has gone very wrong with Microsoft. Their stock hasn't been doing very well anyway – but I'm still of the mind to sell it short.

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