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Editor's Note: Lighting a Fire(fox) Under a Browser

Jun 18, 2004, 23:30 (35 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Okay, I have to 'fess up: I was a trend follower, not a trend setter, this week.

When new software products are announced, I usually look at them with a slight longing, as I wish that I actually had two minutes of the day to rub together to take on such a project.

It's not that Linux installations are all that time consuming (they're usually faster now than the Windows installations I have had to do recently. Dear InstallShield: I cannot imagine a world where your software can be much slower.)--it's just that after an installation is completed, I tend to want to play with the shiny new toy on my computer. That's where the time comes in.

But, as I bent like a willow under the relentless peer-pressure, I eventually snapped and downloaded the new version of Firefox, installed it, and started using it.

I have a certain affinity for browsers. Before I came to Linux Today full-time, I was working for the now-defunct BrowserWatch.com. BrowserWatch, in case you don't recall, was a newsfeed site much like this one, with a huge directory of browsers for nearly every platform you could think of. In the year or so I worked on that site, I became a bit of an expert on browsers. Or, at least, a talented amateur.

And in that time, I came to the somewhat inescapable conclusion that browser built around Internet Explorer technology pretty much sucked.

Keep in mind, this was just before the big wave of vulnerabilities that hammered (and is still hammering) IE. And Mozilla was still in its infancy as a project. But the difference, to me, between this browsers was like night and day, particularly in the speed category.

So, I'll be honest with you--when people around me were saying that Firefox was faster than Mozilla, which, in my mind, was the standard for fast GUI browsing, I was scoffing. Since a browser is my number one work tool, I am very discriminating, but my Mozilla was fast. A little slow to start, but once it is up, things will happily click along.

Getting Firefox was simple, the Mozilla Web site makes tracking down download links a breeze. More sites should follow their example, by the way. I was a little worried when I saw the download for was 8.1 Mb. Not a problem on broadband, but already I was thinking "how fast would this be?"

I don't want to be too technical, but in my professional opinion: really, really fast.

Firefox is absolutely perfect for what I need it to do. Besides the speed issue, I was worried that I would be trading functionality for a ligther browser. Nope. The big thing that's missing is the e-mail client, but truth to tell, I never used that in Mozilla, as I prefer all my in/out mail to be handled by one client. Tabbed browsing, which is the major feature I need, is right there, in all its spendored glory.

And, even better, Firefox has something even cooler up it's sleeve: the ability to add on functionality as you need it, in the form of extensions. Extensions are add-on applications that give Firefox users more power. Note that these are not plug-ins; plug-ins are still used, but they are strictly used for viewing content. Extensions modify the browser itself.

The extension I wanted to get was Tabbrowser, which according to the description, would let me do all sorts of cool things with the tabs. I found it, and clicked on the Install link. Again, I expected the worst: I figured I'd have to install the extension, then manually point Firefox to it, yada yada... wrong again. I clicked, it installed, I restarted the browser, and there it was.

Now I can click and drag my tabs into any order I want, which means I no longer need a Gnumeric spreadsheet to organize the flow of news on LT; I can just sort the tabs in order, then start feeding the site in tab sequence.

Firefox, like Mozilla, has themes. They are easier to get to than Mozilla--instead of being buried in the Preferences dialog, Firefox's theme manager is accessed right from the Tools menu. I found a good assortment of themes, but I did run into the one bugaboo I have had since I've started using Firefox. I swtiched themes while having a large number of tabs open, and basically all the content disappeared and did not seem to want to come back. (And did Brian save the tabs before doing this? Nooo...)

I have been using Firefox 0.9 since the day it came out, and I have not had any other problems than that. I did run into one more problem installing the Java plug-in, but this was not inherent to Firefox. I found this solution referenced at JustLinux.

I will add two big suggestions to this process: first, get the tarballed RPM file if you can, so the JRE is automatically installed in /usr/java (or install it there yourself with the non-RPM tarball of JRE). Second, when making the symbolic link to the /firefox/plugins directory, make sure your Firefox instance is off. Once I did both of these, Firefox could find the plug-in, and I happily had my animated radar maps running again.

Beyond being just a really nifty tool, Firefox is just a really good example of what an open-source project can do when left to its own devices. In all my time at BrowserWatch, I saw many IE-based browsers that ultimately ended up being just different wrappers around the IE/Mosaic engine. Clearly, with open source, this does not have to be the case.


By the way, I am a bit disappointed... we did something different last week, and no one wrote in about it!

Actually, last week was a trial run, to see if it could be managed. But, it did, so this week it will be official:

After many years, Linux Today will now be going back to a 24-hour, 7-day news format.

The decision to do this was mine, and it really made a lot of sense to do this. We get a lot of news on Fridays, and I would schedule some to post on Friday evenings, and some on early Monday morning. Invariably, though, come Monday, there would still be news left over from Friday that I would feel obligated to run on Monday--but would compete with the new Monday stories, and make Mondays very hectic.

So, what will happen is this. Around this time Friday evening, we will go to a weekend mode and space stories of interest out over the entire weekend (or Sunday-Monday, for those on the other side of the Date Line).

Please note, it may be a wide spacing. Last weekend, stories were three hours apart in posting. If the news content that week is less, it could be even longer between posts. But there will be coverage of news on the weekends, and I will (as I did last weekend) post additional relevent and breaking content when I can.

To anticipate a question: we may still stop the feed on US holidays. I haven't worked that one out yet.

This move back to 24/7 status reflects just how busy we are in terms of more news coming in and users visiting the site at any time, day or night. Linux is of great interest to those in the IT field as well as general users, teachers, politicians, scientists. I am glad we can provide our content to meet everyone's schedule again.