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Why We Use Firefox

Michael H. Suo's picture

By Michael H . Suo and Zhigang Suo

While browsers have improved greatly in recent years, we have noticed that many academics are still missing out on important functions. In this post, we will focus on Firefox, an open-source browser that has recently gained popularity. Note: this is not a Microsoft-bashing article. Internet Explorer 7 is a very functional modern browser, but for the reasons below, we like Firefox better.

In recent months, both Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2.0 have been released. While IE continues to close the gap in functionality, Firefox still has a few key features that we like.

  • In-line spell check. This is particularly important when you write blog entries or blog comments in the browser.
  • Right-clicking on a page sends an email (previously described here).
  • Synchronize your browser across multiple computers, so a bookmark made on one computer will automatically show up on another one.
  • Tabs allow one browser window to contain multiple pages. When you click a hyperlink using the middle button of your mouse, the page appears in a new tab. You can also start a new tab by using keys Ctrl-t.
  • Right-clicking on a page saves the link to

Setting up Firefox takes five minutes (and it's free!). The installation imports all your bookmarks, settings, etc. from Internet Explorer. After installing, you can download add-ons from the official site which increase functionality. One such add-on can synchronize your browsers bookmarks across multiple computers. Another can hide ads on every web page.


MichelleLOyen's picture

I agree that Firefox is great, but also find it irresistable to use Safari now that I've switched to Mac (first with a laptop 18 months ago and now with a desktop as well).  It's another nice non-Microsoft IE option with loads of useful features, and appears to be growing in total browser market share along with the growing Mac OS market share.  

Of course, I can't use it to post to iMech as it does not work right for linking, and I get "Safari support limited" errors every time I click on an iMech link in an email and it brings me into iMech via Safari by default!

Michael H. Suo's picture

I like Safari too, but since it's only for Macs, I really can't recommend it as a viable alternative. However, it does have many of the same features that Firefox has, and if you have a Mac, I'd say go for it.

Wei Hong's picture

To be fair, IE7 does exactly the same on tabs now.

But maybe here are the only reasons I still use IE:

1. Almost all webpages support IE, but I have seen many fails on firefox;

2. IE comes with windows, no installation is needed, and we have been (forced) to use it for more than 10 years. :)

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Wei:  My fault.  Michael wanted to mention that IE7 has tabs now, but I suggested that we were not really comparing IE7 and Firefox 2.0 and should avoid confusing people, there being so much online on that topic.  Our intention to write this post was more elementary:  we noticed many people did not know many powerful and simple-to-use features of modern browsers.  Tabs were one such example. 

We should have removed the statement "but for the reasons below, we like Firefox better."  Michael and I do like Firefox better, for reasons far beyond what were listed.  But tabs were not such a reason, as you pointed out.

I have never encountered a page that cannot be rendered by Firefox.  But I don't surf a lot.  I'll ask Michael, our resident surfer, to comment on that.  Next time you see one page, please make a link as a comment, so that we can see what the problem is. 

Wei Hong's picture

Dear Zhigang,

Sorry but I didn't mean to initiate a "fight" on the explorers.

I have only seen like 1 page out of hundreds that can not function well in firefox.

For example, this is a page Zhen and I found not working in firefox:

It's a travel agency page and Zhen was looking for air ticket info. for his parents.  (it's not an advertise, just a random page we encountered)  The problem is that after you select the desitination continent, there is supposed to be a list of countries available, while in firefox you find none.

Many other examples are the webpages of Microsoft.(but those are not fair to firefox, as MS might have done it intensionally)

Michael H. Suo's picture

Yes, it's true that some pages break on Firefox, but most of the time this is the fault of the webmaster, who didn't test his code for compatibility on all browsers. Sometimes, however, it's simply of failing of Firefox's Gecko layout engine.

Firefox users have attempted to fix these errors. For example IE Tab, is an extension that allows Firefox to open a tab that emulates Internet Explorer's method of rendering pages.

Scott Russell's picture

I am also a Mac user and I switched to the Mac-based version of Firefox a few months ago. Safari had too many issues with compatibility with some websites. So far I have encountered no such issues with Firefox. It is also a little quicker than Safari and has a more easily customizable popup blocker. I also like to ability to completely reload a previous session in the event of an unintended quit. In my opinion it is the best browser option available for the Mac today. I have so far found nothing that Safari does better than Firefox, but quite a bit the other direction. I used to have to rely upon IE on occasion to use certain sites. I have not had to use it once since I switched to Firefox. This is especially important since future versions of IE for the Mac are no longer being developed.

Scott M. Russell
Benchmark Nitinol Device Technologies


Michael H. Suo's picture

This is good to know, but I feel obligated to mention that Firefox's creator (Mozilla) also makes a browser designed exclusively for Macs, called Camino. I can't speak to how good it is, since I've never spent a significant amount of time with it, but from what I've seen, it's similar to Firefox but has better integration with OS X features like Keychain and Bonjour.

MichelleLOyen's picture

Michael, thanks for the tip, I was not aware of Camino and had personally not had much luck with Firefox; I was mostly just using it as a back-up when something (like iMechanica) would not work in Safari.  It'll be interesting to see how Camino works and if I can get down to one single browser for everything!

Dear Michael:

I like Firefox too! However, I should switch to IE sometimes, because a few Chinese webmaster or webpage maker use some specific MS technology in their page, Firefox doesn't work well at that time. These pages request IE to open only. If you design a webpage according to W3C standard, it will work well with Firefox.


Kewei Li

Shanghai University

Internet Explorer (IE) become one of the major targets of the hackers around the world. They like to hack IE. They feel so delighted after successufully hacking in it. They make lots of trojans and worms to attack IE. Tha is whay people using Firefox.

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