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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Mozilla’s political intolerance

Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich has been pressured into stepping down. His offense: a political contribution which he made years before he took that post. Mozilla’s Executive Chairwoman has announced this in terms which are either vicious mockery or plain gibbering, I can’t decide which.

Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.

Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. We welcome contributions from everyone regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views. Mozilla supports equality for all.

We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public. This is meant to distinguish Mozilla from most organizations and hold us to a higher standard. But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community.

While painful, the events of the last week show exactly why we need the web. So all of us can engage freely in the tough conversations we need to make the world better.

If Mozilla values freedom of speech and contributions from everyone are welcome, that should be an argument for not sacking someone whose views are different. At Mozilla, though, these terms apparently have the opposite meaning from their actual one. “Diversity of views” means that if your views are different, you’ll be tossed out the door. A “culture of openness” means that you had better conform. “We need the web” so your boss can find out what you think and send you packing if it’s disapproved.

Progressivism has grown steadily more intolerant in the past decade or two. The abandonment of the word “liberal” is fitting. For years now it’s been common to hear blanket denunciations of anyone who registers or votes Republican. I’ve been writing here about the recent appearance of speech codes in science fiction convention policies, and their growth out of speech codes at educational institutions. Recently there was a case of outright political violence at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and I was able to find only one article critical of it that didn’t come from a libertarian or conservative viewpoint.

If businesses with a left-leaning culture start imposing political standards, the right is entirely able to do the same. A couple of years ago there was a vicious campaign in Cranston, Rhode Island, against a high school student who brought a lawsuit against a religious display in a public high school Florists were afraid to deliver flowers to her. An article on Slate calls for an all-out witch hunt against thousands of people who have made Proposition 8 donations, and the author says they shouldn’t have jobs at all.

It’s still mostly true that employers don’t care what your political views are, at least as long as you don’t take them to work. This may be changing, and it would be to everyone’s detriment. In a job market like that, I don’t know who’d hire me, since my views are far outside the standard left-right spectrum. A lot of creative people hold unusual views which others might find offensive. I think Richard Stallman’s politics are crazy, but that doesn’t stop me from recognizing the work he’s done. If people had to hide their political views to get jobs, this would be a sadder, even more easily manipulated country.

This post composed with iCab. I can’t easily give up Firefox, but I can at least avoid it for the present.

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