Back to top

Anyone Else Feel Like They Should Use Firefox

… but Still Struggle With It?

This post was originally (and still is) a forum post on the MPU forums. I have two concrete question blocks I’d love feedback on, which I will present during the post. I would love to hear from you, either over at MPU, as a comment to this post on, via Mastodon, or email. 🙂

I’d like to talk about browsers! And people are of course welcome to comment whatever they want — but some notes on what my intentions for this discussion are:

  1. For reasons, I’ll touch on later, this is mostly about desktop browsers.
  2. In terms of privacy and security, I’m approaching this from a reality where 65% of people use Chrome. So in this context, vastly improving the privacy from that, is more interesting than saying someone is a gullible idiot if they don’t use a Tor browser. 😛 So while I’m not saying those things shouldn’t be part of the discussion at all, I’d like to talk more about user experience and features than hardening if you catch my drift. 1

OK, let’s go!

Ethics are always difficult to discuss. Because while I think everyone should be mindful of the small things we should do to improve things, people have different priorities and possibilities. And where should we draw the line while consumers in a problematic system? Like, I should probably use a Fairphone over an iPhone even though it’s worse, right? How much worse should I accept? How hard should I pull away from things like Facebook or X?

Screenshot from the Fairphone website: “Your phone can do better: We make fair(er) phones - To change the industry from the inside. One step at a time, all over the world. Together with our community, we’re changing the way products are made. Here’s how we’re disrupting the tech space. About us button. What it means to be fair:"

Still, I’m at least trying to try — and as the browser is perhaps the most used app, the choice of it is among the things I’m thinking about.

And here’s why I feel like I should use Firefox:

  1. I don’t love the amount of power Google has over the web, among other things, through Chromium.
  2. And while Safari is better, simply because WebKit is less popular, in principle I don’t love that situation either. An example is how other WebKit browsers, like SigmaOS and Orion, have to hack support for Chrome extensions to be able to offer extensions at all…

So while I could mention plenty of grievances with Mozilla Corp. as well, I still absolutely feel like using Firefox/a Gecko browser is among the most ethical alternatives. And even though we might only put it above Chrome, Safari and Edge, it would still be in the top 10%.

Question(s) 1:

How much weight does ethics carry when you choose apps, platforms, services, etc.? If no, why not? And do you agree or disagree that there are ethical reasons to use Firefox over Chrome? What about Safari? Or something like Vivaldi?

Some notes on mobile

As, I assume, many on this forum, my mobile devices are iOS/iPadOS. And while I actually think Safari is pretty good on these devices, I think Apple’s stance on browsers here is one of the most blatant anti-competitive ones. I don’t mind the fact that others have to use WebKit, really. But combined with the fact that no one else is allowed to offer extensions, it gets problematic. Now, the EU is forcing them to open up some of this — but like many others, I don’t love the idea of Chromium getting even more dominance… So I kind of wish the EU had said something like “You have to open up — but it’s only mandatory to do it to browser engines with less than 50% market share”, or something. 😛

This stranglehold also contributes to the fact that I find the mobile browser space much less interesting to discuss… 2

Two things that aren’t a problem for me, but might be for others:

  1. The first is that I don’t have a work situation where I have to use a specific browser (engine). For instance, I know that many are dependent on work tools that only work well in Chromium browsers. But this is a good argument for why those of us who can use something else should. That more and more of the web only works in Chromium is a very serious problem.
  2. I’ve always told myself that “Of course I need to use the same browser on desktop and mobile, as I want sync!”. However, as I only take advantage of this like once a year, I’ve finally realised that this just isn’t an issue for me. 😛 I think it’s a good idea to keep bookmarks in a separate app (I use Anybox), and shortcuts, like in the bookmark bar or what it’s called, I feel needs to be adapted to every platform anyway. And while I like that my history is accessible on mobile, I don’t see a need for it to be in my default mobile browser. As I do it so rarely, I don’t mind opening a separate app to search for it.

But my guess is that these might be larger issues for others!

I tried and failed — but now I’m trying again

I tried using Firefox as my default for about a year, around 2022, before giving up. But these are the reasons I’m now trying again:

  • I think Arc is the best browser. However, after being unsure about using it due to Chromium, their recent change of direction pushed me over the edge — so I stopped using it. And I’m using the opportunity from “not being able” to use the best, to give Firefox another chance. 😛
  • Firefox on mobile is very uninspired — but, as mentioned, I’m not really concerned about that anymore! (And I can open Safari on my Mac to get my mobile history, and Firefox on mobile to get my desktop history.)
  • I’ve become much better at programming-adjacent activities since last time, so customising it to my liking is less daunting.

One thing that struck me going back to Firefox, is how it hasn’t improved at all in a year. While Arc and SigmaOS, which I’ve used the last year, get updates all the time — even though the SigmaOS team is like 6 people. But it is what it is…

If someone asks me how good I think macOS is — should I answer how good I think it is out-of-the-box (“State A”), or after I’ve customised it and added a bunch of third-party software (“State B”)? I think State B is the most relevant — but I also think it’s relevant how hard/expensive it is to get it there.

In State A, Firefox is slightly worse than Safari, and much worse than Arc. On the plus side, the other two browsers can’t be improved that much — while Firefox’s State B is a huge improvement. Then I’d say it’s better than Safari and on par with Arc. However, getting it there is far too difficult (but luckily not expensive).

Currently, I’m doing a little project where I do my best to make Firefox the best it can be (at least to me). I know I’m far from the first to embark on this, but I’d still like to make it shareable. In other words, I’m trying to both improve State B of Firefox, while also making it a bit easier to get there. Here’s a teaser screenshot:

I’m using Sideberry for vertical tabs, and have made a bunch of visual changes and cleaned up the interface in general.

I think it's become a much nicer browser after fiddling. But I completely understand that most people don't want to do that, so Mozilla should _really_ improve State A while also making it easier to come to State B.

But meanwhile, as I’m very into obsessing over browser details, I’d love to hear from others:

Question(s) 2:

If you’re not using Firefox, why not? What would make you switch? (Changes in Firefox, or the browser you’re using now.) And what are some of your favourite browser features in general?

My thought process is as follows:

  • I think the existence of Firefox/Gecko is critical for the future of the web.
  • I don’t have much power as a just-a-guy from Norway — but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do anything.
  • So if it is as good as the alternatives, I should absolutely use it.
  • But here’s the important part, and where I’m currently at: But what about if it’s not as good as the best? (Which it is not…) How large a gap should I accept here? And how small can I make it with the tools available?

What about yours?

  1. However, even though I’m content with “good privacy”, I have zero issues with others wanting “great or better”! ↩︎

  2. I know that Android is more open - but I think there would be way more incentive for interesting initiatives in this space, if the work could be deployed on every mobile device. Especially as iOS users spend way more in average. ↩︎