Friday, July 03, 2009

Firefox: The progression of popularity and the stigma of the Geek.

Lets take a moment and look back about 5 years at the state of the GNU/Linux desktop from an emerging web based world. There was really only two web browsers worth mentioning, Mozilla and Netscape (which in hindsight were essentially the same thing). The problem? They were heavy set in terms of the resources they required, so what happened? Mozilla released Phoenix, and it was amazingly fast and nobody could believe how quickly it would fire up and run on their old Pentium II machines that they slapped Linux on in an attempt to breath some life back into them.

At the time only those "in the know" were running the browser but it was quickly gaining steam just in time for a name change to Firebird due to angry people with trademark hooks on the name and for a decent amount of users this caused enough confusion for there to be a riff in its general usage but as time progressed and users were aware of the name change things were back to normal. Forums were booming with the merits of the browser as the popularity gained, it was insane how fast your browser could be. It truly raised the bar for expectations of what users compared all other browsers to. Now that we've gotten some happy users, lets go ahead and change the name again. This time the Firebird database people are upset so Mozilla politely obliged and changed the name again. Thus, Firefox is born and the web browser revolution is under way. Firefox hits the ground running with features no one can compete with, it is wildly extendible, is "secure" (I always use that word with a grain of salt), open source, and its fast. This is truly innovation that will go down in the history of computing.

Lets fast forward to today and walk into a room of GNU/Linux aficionados and ask "What's your opinion of Firefox?" and as we make this inquiry let us remember that this was the same demographic that half a decade ago was singing the praises of the now main stream browser. The responses you will receive are probably going to be something along the lines of "I don't use FirefoxOS", " pwns Firefox in the face", or "Bloatware is annoying". What happened? Geeks are fickle creatures, that's what happened. We love the latest and greatest tech that nobody else is using because its new and shiny, its fast, it shows promise, and because nobody else is using it we are somehow elite for doing so. What about when that new shiny tech reaches maturity and succeeds in a big way? Firefox happens.

Here's the reality of the situation, yes webkit is cool as hell from a geek standpoint because its new and its shiny but Firefox is tried and true, it supports all the latest and greatest web tech, is popular as hell, its well supported, stable, "secure" (remember that grain of salt), cross platform, fast, extendible as ever, open source, and it just flat out works. I'm not saying you should turn your nose up at webkit in any way, shape, or form because it truly is the new shiny tech that shows a lot of promise. But I'm tired of people bitching and moaning about Firefox's "issues" when all the arguments I have heard thus far are simply cases of a Geek stigma haunting what is now too mainstream to be "cool" or "l33t" enough for those of us who pride ourselves on our technological prowess.

Lets try to be Geeks and be happy for that which emerges from our depths as a great mainstream success in the user share market.


cjb said...

Sorry to pedant, but that's not how you spell "Let's" or "it's"; the mistakes make your writing hard to read.

CelloFellow said...

Firefox is only "bloated" when you load it up with a dozen extensions and (gasp) themes. I'm sure you know this, of course.

Firefox is a browser built on the powerful XUL development framework, and can be extended using this framework. This is no different than EMACS being an editor built on the powerful LISP development framework, and being extensively extended with it.

WebKit on the other hand is just an HTML/CSS/JavaScript engine, nothing more or less. KHTML plugged in to the very plugin-based Konqueror file manager (and the KDE desktop as a whole), and WebKit is just KHTML with a new name, new sponsor (Apple), and a lot of new code.

If you treat Firefox like any other WebKit-based browser (Safari, Chrome, Midori), and don't install any extensions, it's reasonably fast and not bloated at all. Of course on a benchmark it won't perform as fast no matter how much you strip out of it or don't add to it, but it's still reasonably fast, not a slow rhinoceros of a program.

And, of course, there are some extensions I can't see myself doing without, like FireBug. So, love it or hate it, Firefox is a really good browser.

Basically I'm saying I agree with you. Good work. Viva la Firefox!

slashdotaccount said...

Oh, for the love of irony. Seems like Mozilla didn't learn their lesson about trademarks. Iceweasel/icecat FTW

pbrobinson said...

I agree with your sentiments wholeheartedly. The bloat of flash etc doesn't help it either.

Kevin Kofler said...

Hey, you didn't even mention "Firesux" in the replies. ;-)

But I'm not one of those who praised Firefox back in the day, I always thought Konqueror is the way to go and that's still what I think. :-)

johndrinkwater said...

I’m grumpy about the situation because software like Firefox and Pidgin (laugh, I don’t care) are great examples of FLOSS software that encourages migration to Linux - they see its possible that great software exists, and think about trying more. It encouraged me a decade ago.
Familiarity is very important to users.

It’s likely in a years time that anyone new to desktop Linux will have never met any of the software before, wont be able to migrate their set-in-ways or extensions, and I just think it’ll be a shot in our collective feet.

At least, those are my thoughts. Madness?