When I was a Windows user I went through several generations of browsers. Starting off with Mosaic, then on to Netscape Navigator and finally, since I was a hard core MS guy, Internet Explorer. Of course back then we called the early versions Internet Exploder because the thing would frequently crash in spectacular ways. Over time Internet Explorer improved and became fairly stable, though it had a huge number of security holes that Microsoft could never seem to get on top of.
Once Internet Explorer became the defacto standard on the Windows platform Microsoft stopped innovating on it and focused on fixing security issues. It was about this time that Mozilla put out the first versions of Firefox and suddenly I had a reason to consider something other than IE. Firefox was quick, had a tabbed interface that IE didn't, didn't have the security holes that IE had and was, for the most part, able to present most web pages just as well as IE.
I quickly adopted Firefox as my default browser and for the next couple of years watched as Microsoft slowly realized that they needed to put a lot of effort into their new browser. Firefox always seemed to be one step ahead of IE, adding great new capabilities like skinning, plugins and extensions that were really handy.
Enough Windows History - What About Mac?
When I switched to Mac I figured I would also use Firefox instead of Safari. It was actually the very first application I installed on my new Mac. After playing with both I was surprised to find myself using Safari as my default browser. My use of Firefox was limited to my development work where some of the extensions for Firefox come in handy and the XML viewer that's built in makes life much easier.
What didn't I like about Firefox? It was considerably slower than Safari when loading and rendering web pages. The UI did not feel Mac like, with a toolbar that looked like something from an older Windows application. I love the clean, crisp UIs that Apple produces and while some think that Safari is spartan, I think it's just clean and uncluttered.
Firefox also rendered form components on a web page very differently than Safari. While Safari's pulldown lists and buttons inside a web form looked just like any other Mac UI, the Firefox versions of those buttons looked like something from an old Windows 98 machine; square, gray, flat buttons.
Out Comes Firefox 3.0
The recent release of Firefox 3.0 meant that I wanted to check this out again and see if Firefox deserved a spot as my default browser. I installed it over my previous version and started playing around.
Note: If you are a 1Password fan like I am you will need to open the preferences in it and reset it in the Browsers section.
The first thing I noticed is that it is considerably faster than the previous version. I didn't do hard core testing—just some subjective stuff—but found it to be nearly as fast as Safari. The UI has also been updated, making it look much more like a traditional Mac application. I particularly like the tab and toolbar rendering:
I also found that the web forms that Firefox used to generate are now being presented with traditional OS X looking components. This was a big deal for me so I was quite happy to see that in 3.0.
The Firefox team also added a cool searching feature. Click on the down arrow just on the right side of the address box and up pops your standard list of recent addresses. If you begin to type any matches found—both from your history and your bookmarks—appear in the list. It's kind of like a browser specific Spotlight search. Very cool.
There are three key Safari features that I don't have in Firefox though:
1) Dictionary Lookup
2) Drag and drop in web file upload forms
Of these only Dictionary Lookup is tough to live without for me. Given the advances that Firefox has made I am going to spend the next week playing with this browser to see if it can indeed become my default. Using it for the bulk of the day yesterday leads me to think it has a pretty good chance.