Use FirefoxSunday, Dec 9, 2018 · 800 words · approx 4 mins to read
A couple of years ago I wrote about using Firefox as your main browser in pursuit of a more open Web, and one that better respects your security and privacy as you browse around it. I wrote about how using Firefox is a vote for open standards and interoperability between browsers, keeping us away from the dark days of sites working on just the most dominant browser. I also wrote about being worried that without Mozilla and Firefox, the Web would become an increasingly closed platform driven by Apple and Google.
All of those things are still absolute ground truths.
A couple of things have changed since then, though. The most recent is that Microsoft have announced that they’re dropping their proprietary browser engine technology, EdgeHTML, which powers their Edge browser on Windows and Xbox. Edge’s tight links to Windows and how Windows works means that Microsoft can’t easily bring it to other platforms. And while Windows market share is holding steady, Microsoft haven’t been able to use that to raise Edge’s market share compared to the other main browsers available on Windows, especially Chrome. In fact, most data shows that Edge is still some way behind overtaking Internet Explorer, Edge’s older and objectively much worse predecessor.
Increasing Edge’s market share means Microsoft have to look further than Windows and bring it to other platforms, especially mobile, and also macOS to some extent. It can’t easily do that with EdgeHTML as the core technology due to the engine’s ties to Windows. Microsoft’s choice is to either invest heavily in bringing EdgeHTML to new platforms via fresh engineering effort, or to use a different browser engine technology that’s already proven to be modern, mature and cross-platform.
For the latter, there are only really three sensible choices there — Google Chromium, which uses Google’s Blink (a fork of WebKit) rendering engine, Mozilla’s Gecko Quantum, which is close to using their state-of-the-art Servo WebRender rendering engine as its default way to draw, and WebKit.
Quantum powers Firefox. WebKit powers Apple’s Safari browsers on iOS and macOS. Chromium basically powers everything else with any popularity that isn’t Internet Explorer. Chrome on every platform (bar iOS), but also Opera, Brave and Amazon Silk (which powers the browsers on Amazon FireTV and Kindle Fire), Samsung’s default browser on their Galaxy devices, Vivaldi, and regionally-popular browsers like those from Yandex (Russian Federation) and Qihoo (China).
Microsoft chose Chromium over continuing to develop EdgeHTML. While I can understand the pure business case of choosing Chromium, and Microsoft are still a shareholder-owned business with money-making obligations, I wish they’d chosen Quantum to help level the playing field in competing mass-market browser technology platforms.
That brings me onto the second thing that’s changed since I made the case for a switch to Firefox a couple of years ago. At the time I wrote that it’s noticeably slower, clunkier and less integrated than Safari on macOS, my desktop computing platform of choice. It had also only just switched to a multi-process execution model for tabs and it wasn’t terribly compatible with some popular plugins.
That was then. Today, Firefox is one of the fastest, slickest browsers on the market. The Quantum project at Mozilla has slowly turned Firefox into a state-of-the-art browser with high performance, a great UI, and their most promising browser technology platform since Mozilla started over 20 years ago on the Netscape codebase.
So with Firefox’s user-facing experience having come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years to the point where it’s arguably the leading browser now in terms of overall performance and user experience, and with Microsoft choosing to put their weight behind Google’s browser technology, it’s worth updating my core thesis:
Without Mozilla and without Firefox I’m worried the Web will become an increasingly closed platform driven by Apple and Google. It’s time to put other browsers to one side and use Firefox instead. With Firefox’s user experience and performance being so good now, give it a try, and think of it as a strongly principled vote for a more open Internet. With Edge switching to Chromium, without a fresh influx of new users to drive Mozilla’s own renewed focus on Firefox, we might lose the open Web.
Firefox is really great these days, so get it now and help keep the Web more about its users and less about the business needs of the big profit-driven corporations that control its core browsing technologies.