Saturday, June 23, 2007

Firefox: Of Thee I Sing, Thunderbird: Of Thee I Hum

or: Don't Fence Me In
or: Freedom, by George Michaels

I've tried the new Safari Beta 3. It's really fast and refreshingly standards-compliant. I don't care for the brushed aluminum look, though supposedly that's going away.

There's no way I'll switch from Firefox, though. There are two main reasons: I rely on many useful Firefox extensions, and Firefox is still more cross-platform than Safari. Firefox also supports more search engines in its search text field. To be fair and balanced, I must point out that Firefox 2.X crashes or hangs on Mac OS X all the time. I put up with that because of all the other benefits.

That first reason is the biggest though. Firefox is more hackable, which makes it more useful. Here is the list of Firefox extensions I use. The Firefox Add-ons page is also a great resource.

"It's All Text!" lets you edit any textarea's text using your favorite editor. Mine's set to use Emacs, of course. You can set the editor in the preference dialog box, but it might be easier for you to edit the Firefox's user prefs Javascript file and add

user_pref("extensions.itsalltext.editor",
          "/Applications/Emacs.app/Contents/MacOS/Emacs");

I should probably use emacsclient instead so the file is open in the currently running Emacs instead of in a new instance.

Switching to another browser like Safari would force me to give up too many extensions that I have come to rely on. Google Browser Synch is probably the most useful to me, with Firebug and LiveHttpHeaders coming in a close second and third.

Safari does have some features that Firefox doesn't, of course. Sharing your bookmarks with those around you via Bonjour and integration with Apple's AddressBook are the two I can think of. I don't want either. How often have I wanted to share all my bookmarks with others or see all of theirs? Never. Hell, I password-protect my Firefox so that if other people use it they won't see the form field values that Firefox saves for me.

There are some little things that bug me about Safari, too. For example, the keyboard shortcut to open/close the bookmarks sidebar is Option-Command-B and the command to switch to the Google search text field is Option-Command-F. I hate the Option-Command combo; it forces me to switch my whole left hand position away from the home row. In Firefox it's Command-B and Command-K for Mac OS X, Control-B and Control-K for Windows and Linux.

For similar reasons, I use Thunderbird instead of Apple's Mail. Not because of the extensions (I only use one: Enigmail), but because it is cross-platform, uses a standard format for email message storage, and uses an open format for its address book. I'm using Mac OS X now, but it's possible that I might want to switch to Linux (Ubuntu is quite nice) or be forced to switch to Windows at some point. I can use Thunderbird on those platforms, too.

When I must open Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations I use NeoOffice. On Windows, I use OpenOffice.org.

It's most important to me that my data is portable not only between operating systems but also between computers and applications. I refuse to get locked down into any proprietary format or have my data locked down on only one computer. I'm letting Google store my (encrypted) browser information, but I have my own copies of the data on more than one computer, inside Firefox itself.

2 comments:

El Borba said...

Thanx for the heads-up on "It's All Text!". I have always wanted a feature like this. I used to compose in Word and cut-and-paste into textboxes for anything longer than a one-liner response. But I loaded "It's All Text" and hooked it up to SlickEdit (which is always open on my desktop making it a real quick startup from an HTML form), and I really like it. I am using it right now to write this. SlickEdit's spell-checker is not quite as easy-to-use, but I hate Word and I use Linux a lot (and have a dual Windows/Linux SlickEdit license).
BTW, Ubuntu is quite nice. But the Kubuntu releases have problems. I have found it smoother to gen from Ubuntu, then load KDE (and other development tools) later via the Debian packages. It doesn't take very long and you get a nice log of what you have loaded on the machine. So far, they are attacking the desktop replacement area (which is probably why the Kunbuntu splinter was forced overboard). And they do a good job at that (and switching between Gnome and KDE is not that bad, or you can just add the KDE menu to Gnome if it is only their utilities and apps that you want at the moment).
I agree that Firefox plug-ins rock! I live and die by "Web Developer" and have wanted to try "Firebug" for a while (and now I will, based on your recommendation). My second favorite plug-in has been "Sage" (which now has a brand new bright and shiny "Shiny Things" folder. And it already looks like "It's All Text!" will be the new number three (if "Firebug" does not eclipse it in a couple of days).
Another BTW, this is an old friend who hasn't said hello in over five years (Don Alameda). I came across your blog when searching for a Java syndication piece and saw you were maintaining TwICE and Rice. I really like your clean and to-the-point style ("Just the fact, Ma'am"). I do not like bloggers who feel that every post has to be the next chapter of their serial novel. Keep up the great work!

Jim Menard said...

Hi, Don! Thanks for the comment. Great to hear from you and glad to give you some new ideas for Firefox. I use Google's bookmark manager instead of Sage because way back when I used Sage there were some merging problems.