The state of browser affairs

First, a little joke to set the scene (forgive a rough translation from Russian)…

Lion, the king of all animals, was running some statistics over his animal kingdom.  He called all animals and made the speech.  “Dear all,” – he said, – “I am trying to figure out how to direct the educational program in the upcoming year.  For that I need some stats.  Those of you who are strong, please stand on my right.  Those of you who are smart, please stand on my left.  And let me count you…”

Strong animals – elephants, bulls, hippos, etc – all moved by the lion’s right paw.  The smart animals – beavers, rats, foxes, etc – grouped by lion’s left side.  When the dust settled, there was a one animal still running around blubbering something.  All attention turned towards the creature, and everyone saw the monkey.  It was running back and forward from one group to another and back again, thinking out oud: “strong to the right, smart to the left.. .strong to the right, smart to the left… and me? what about me?  Do I have to cut myself in half or what?” …

For the last few days, I feel a little bit like that monkey.  The thing is that I’m using two browsers right now, I can’t continue using two browsers, and I can’t pick one.  Those of you following me on Twitter might be somewhat aware of the situation.

I love Firefox.  I’ve been using it for years, and I don’t see it going anywhere.  It has plenty of functionality (especially through plugins and extensions) that no other browser has.  It does whatever I want it to do and then a little bit more.  But it’s so slow that I can’t stand it.  I have removed all extensions that I don’t use.  I have disabled all extensions that I use from time to time.  I read all optimizations tips on the web and tried a few thoughts of my own.  It helped, but not enough.  Nothing has solved the problem.  Scrolling is still slow.  Especially with a few tabs open.  Switching between tabs is slow. Opening a new tab is slow.  And these are things I do a few thousand times a day.  Even milliseconds count for this operations.  Firefox allows itself to spend almost full seconds.

On the other hand, I have Opera – a fantastically fast browser.  It even has a lot of features that make browsing the web so pleasant. Tabs, search bar, downloads management, history and bookmarks, fast dial, notes, and many more.  But.  Those aren’t enough.  Even with recently introduced widgets it still doesn’t cover the functionality that I need.  By far.  Not even 50%.  But it’s so fast that it almost makes me not care.  Almost.

Opera has practically no integration with social services – something that I work a lot with.  No comparison can be made with Firefox extensions for Twitter, Flickr, and here.  It has practically no integration with other, less social, online tools – specifically the Google pack of services (Gmail, Calendar, Reader, etc).  And it misses the most important area of my work – web development.  Source code formatting, highlighting, editing, analysis, testing, troubleshooting…

I am confident that the situation will improve and resolve itself pretty soon.  Firefox is getting a lot of momentum and already plenty of optimizations went into upcoming Firefox 3.  Opera is getting a lot of hype and user base on mobile devices.  People are starting to develop for it.

But I can’t wait…

4 thoughts on “The state of browser affairs”

  1. This is exactly my situation. Firefox just runs *so* slow. It takes well over 2 seconds to open a new window, and over 15 to start up! I installed opera and it runs just fine. Looking forward to Firefox 3, and I really hope it will have Google Gears support too. It’s much better that the inbuilt offline functionality, and also open source so that’s all right too.

  2. David,

    browser support for Google Gears is not enough – it should be utilized on the web site side too. Currently I know of only two web services that support Google Gears – Google Reader and Zoho office (if I don’t confuse it with something else).

    Google Gears is a very cool idea and implementation. I think we’ll see more adoption of it as well as competitive solutions in the near future.

    Some people are trying to solve offline mode issue on an application or task level. For example, there are quite a few blogging applications which allow to work offline and then sync with major blogging engines and services, such as WordPress, LiveJournal, Blogspot, etc. But I don’t think it’s a way to go.

    The web got much more complex than it used to be even five years ago. There are more and more data that we keep online and there is a growing demand for faster access for manipulation of that data. Network connections aren’t improving so fast, so we’ll need some generic offline mode mechanisms.

    In general, this is a very interesting issue that I should blog about one day…

  3. Hi Leonid,

    Its great to see you are considering Opera. Our next release, Opera Kestrel (9.5) will have further speed optimisations, an will work as well as always on slower connections and hardware.

    We realise that Opera has a lack of developer tools, and we are currently building our own, that we hope to preview some time in the not too distant future.

    We are also working on improving our compatibility with services such as Google. Google Docs is the latest to add support.

    Opera Link provides syncing capabilities between different instances of Opera, and other browsers via the My.Opera online interface. It doesn’t support third party services yet however.

    I hope you enjoy our developer tools when they come out.

  4. David,

    hi and thanks for stopping by. :)

    I am not much of a developer myself, but even as an end user I’d love to see more help and tools for developers. People use browsers in a great variety of ways, and I don’t think that anybody seriously expects Opera’s in-house development team to follow up on those ways… Give devs the power to make Opera browser feature rich, and you’ll see it blossom.

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