Escaping Firefox

With Mozilla’s recent antics, I’ve been looking harder at alternatives to Firefox. Aside from the company’s making past political contributions a criterion of employability, Firefox has features that really annoy me. A lot of these can be summed up as dumbing down the browser. Its URL auto-completion regards HTTP and HTTPS as interchangeable and will offer HTTP URLs ahead of HTTPS ones, even if you’ve started your URL with “https”. On some occasions, it’s changed my URL from HTTPS to HTTP even when I’ve typed in the whole thing. This is an anti-security feature.

With every release, Firefox hides more options. Generally they’re still available, but you have to go into about:config to set them. The first time you do this, Firefox claims that changing any settings will “void your warranty.” What warranty?? This seems like some kind of misguided humor designed to discourage people from taking control of their browser experience. It’s been noted that corporate lawyers and tech-ignorant managers may take this nonsense seriously, banning employees from changing their settings. Mozilla representative Mike Shaver says, “So to fix this bug we should have it _be_ appreciated by corporate customers? I don’t know what you propose we should do, other than permute it over and over until nobody ever objects to it.” What was proposed is simple: not making stuff up. Mozilla apparently can’t imagine that.

The basic problem with Firefox and the other major browsers is that they’re “free.” Nothing that requires effort is really free; if you aren’t paying money, you’re paying in some other way. From a sales standpoint, you aren’t the customer but the product. Google is the main customer; most of Firefox’s revenue comes from having Google as the default in the search box. I don’t know just how this drives Mozilla’s design decisions; maybe people who don’t change their defaults are the kind of users they like.

The other free big-name browsers available on OS X — Safari, Chrome, and Opera — are at least as annoying in their own ways. But what about a browser you pay for? Its makers might actually care whether customers appreciate it. There’s one that I’m using right now, as I’m typing this post. It’s a little-known German Apple-only browser called iCab. You can use it for free; it’s nagware and will occasionally pop up a reminder till you pay $20 to register it. You can try it as long as you like before deciding it’s worth the money. (It is.) It has more options and more user-friendly URL completion.

I also use the iOS version, but there it has the problem that you can’t make it the default browser without jailbreaking your device. I had trouble updating it a while back, and it now doesn’t seem to be available on the App Store. Don’t confuse it with i-Cab, which is an app for getting a taxi. Update: The iOS version is actually rather buggy, and I’ve mostly given up on it.

I still don’t use it for everything. Some sites don’t work on iCab, which is in nobody’s test suite. I really like NoScript, a Firefox add-on which lets me enable JavaScript just for certain domains. I don’t feel safe using Twitter, with its obfuscated URLs, without NoScript. But currently I’m doing more than half of my browsing with iCab.

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