Unfairly Criticizing Firefox

Unfairly Criticizing Firefox

Let me start off by saying that I’m a big fan of Jeff Harrell’s work. I read a lot of bloggers on a daily basis and, while many are interesting, I find that I rarely anticipate further entries from anyone other than Jeff H. and Jeff Goldstein. Both share wry senses of humor, propensities to wander into the profane end of the linguistic spectrum and distinctly libertarian ethos. Neither is above using quite a bit of hyperbole for effect, should the situation warrant it.

While I enjoy the work of both bloggers immensely, I also find myself disagreeing with them on occasion; Goldstein is against the criminalization of marijuana, for instance, while I think that Harrell and I disagree on a few cultural issues. However, over the weekend, Jeff H. went and raised all my Open Source Geek hackles by gratuitously slamming Firefox. He starts out thusly:

Among all my Web stuff lately, I’ve been forced through cruel circumstance to download and occasionally use a Web browser called Firefox.

He then links to a post by the enigmatic “M.e.”, claiming that it says just about all that needs be said.

Harrell, continuing:

The interesting thing about Firefox, to me, is that so many people think it’s good. There’s only one explanation for something like that, you know? I mean, we’re not talking about personal taste here. We’re not talking about Coke versus Pepsi or blondes versus brunettes. We’re talking about something that’s objectively, demonstrably bad that lots of people think is good. There’s only one explanation for that: context. People think Firefox is good because it’s better than anything they’ve ever seen. Which is, you know, really very sad if you think about it.

Since Jeff’s piece contains no actual critiques of Firefox, I’ve only the text of the other article to use to interpret Jeff’s gripes with the program. Near as I can tell, he’s all hot and bothered because Firefox doesn’t hew to the Macintosh HIG, that is to say, he’s getting all Mac bigoted on us Firefox users. I really think Jeff is missing the point.

As one of M.e.’s commenters points out, Firefox isn’t designed to hew to any HIG other than its own, it’s meant to be a cross-platform browser above all else. The Firefox team is seeking to provide a consistent user interface regardless of your OS, be you a Mac, Windows, Linux, Solaris or Other user. They’re trying to create the Java of browsers. [And that’s a good thing? -ed. Quiet, you!] If I hit Google Maps, I should see the same interface regardless of my OS of choice, at least inasmuch as the Firefox project is concerned.

Jeff, however, appears to be willfully misunderstanding this and unfairly maligning Firefox in the process. If he’s really concerned with Mac HIG constraints but simply must have the Gecko rendering engine (the engine common to Firefox, Mozilla and a host of other browsers), then he’s free to use Camino or, to a lesser extent, Flock. Maybe he’s just trying to convince other Mac users of the wonders of Safari, but must he slag on Firefox in the process? He’s taken M.e.’s original point (“Come with me; wont you, as I describe in detail the intricacies that make the best browser for Windows, one of the worst browsers for the Mac.”) and expanded it out to all platforms, or so it would seem.

So Jeff, here’s my challenge: what, precisely, is “objectively, demonstrably bad” about Firefox? Please define it, or clarify your original statement and not just for Mac users. What about the flipside? Does the fact that Safari can’t handle Javascript in many situations where Firefox shines make it (Safari) “objectively, demonstrably bad”? How about the relatively closed plugin environment that has developed around Safari? Is that bad? Why should I have to pay for PithHelmet (or be nagged to death) when AdBlock Plus does the same thing, and better, on Firefox?

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