User delights with FireFox

Media & Entertainment, Zeitgeist

I know this is coming a little late in the day especially when FireFox 2.0 Beta has already made an appearance. Actually I had written this long ago, and wanted to make an academic research out of browser comparisons. But since that isn’t anywhere close to happening, here goes.

Top 10 user delights of Mozilla Firefox web browser (in my order of experiencing them):

1. Freedom from virus and spy-ware attacks

This is perhaps the single biggest reason for people wanting to shift from the hitherto ubiquitous Internet Explorer. And it is not only novice users who unwittingly get infested with these viruses and malicious spy programmes, even seasoned net users have become hapless victims and their browsers hijacked.

2. Installation relief – Download size, import bookmarks etc.

Having made up your mind to try out Firefox, you double-check with incredulity that the download size is a mere 4-6 Megabytes. Compare this with your status quo browsers at around 25-50 bloated Megabytes! Moreover one of the bigger inertia factors against changing browsers — existing bookmarks — can be imported very easily.

3. Tabbed browsing

Once you start using Firefox the first feature that catches your eye is tabbed browsing, which allows users to simultaneously open multiple sites within a single application window. Many people feel this is a new feature — which is not true. Tabbed browsing had been introduced by Neoplanet as far back as 1999-2000. However, given 5-6 more years of user-evolution tabbed browsing has become one of the most popular features of Firefox.

4. Open in new window/tab

This is a direct fall-out of the tabbed browsing feature. A very common online trait of information seekers (mostly when you want to check out multiple Google results) is the tendency to right-click and open link in a new window. And without fail the new browser window opens, but on top of the existing window you are working in – disrupting your flow of activities at the page you are on. You necessarily need to click back on the original window to resume and continue. With Firefox, you right-click and open link in a new tab. The new tab opens in the background while you continue your search through other links on the page.

5. Search engines

Over the last few years add-on toolbars from Yahoo, Google and MSN have become popular with users as it saves them the additional step of opening the parent sites in their browsers and then using the search feature. However if your activities involve an equal usage of these three popular searches you end up installing all three in your browser. Not only does that tend to mess with your default settings for home pages and search pages, it also drastically reduces the available screen area. Firefox on the other hand has very smartly used the real estate for menus and carved out a space for the search field along with the address input field. However, what follows next is a much bigger value-add. You can add a number of popular and specialized search engines to this field. For example, I have added Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Answers, Creative Commons, eBay, IMDB, Flickr Tags, Dictionary, Wikipedia. It takes not more than a few seconds to add a new search engine – no restart required!

6. Extensions/plug-ins

Firefox allows you to add on a series of extensions that have been written by the Firefox community. Typically these add-ons are not more than a few to several Kilobytes in size. I have yet to come across an extension that’s in the region of Megabytes in size. Two of my favourite extensions are ‘image zoom’ and ‘blog this’. Whenever Firefox comes across a page where you are missing a plug-in, it effortlessly helps you with downloading and auto-installing the missing plug-in.

7. Download manager

How do downloads work in I.E? You click on the file to be downloaded; a new dialog window opens asking you the location where you would want the file to be downloaded; and then a separate panel opens showing you the status of your download. For multiple files being downloaded simultaneously, multiple download status panels are there, adding to the clutter on your open windows bar. Once the file downloads fully a new dialog box appears letting you open the downloaded file. Sometimes you are not sure where the file has been downloaded, or what all files have you downloaded in the past. In Firefox, all such downloads are streamlined through the download manager, which does all the above activities in a single window, but also shows you the files you have downloaded previously. Additionally it lets you suspend/pause/resume specific downloads.

8. Clearing history selectively

Have you ever been faced with a situation where you have wanted to remove from the address bar history, a few of the recent URLs you have visited? Perhaps the only way available was clearing out the browser history. But with that all the other addresses would also be cleared out. Here again Firefox adds value by removing from the address bar as well, web addresses of the sites you remove from the browser history.

9. Closing window

Another fall out of the tabbed browsing feature is the safety of not closing browser windows accidentally. If you have multiple tabs opened within Firefox and you click the close window icon, Firefox prompts you that this would close all the tabs within the browser and not only the tabs currently being used.

10. It’s free

Free of cost, and free of obligations.


Pop-up blocker

(This post would have served its purpose if even one person switches to FireFox)

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