Sunday, September 19th, 2004
I switched my default browser from Microsoft Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox the other day. I'm sticking with Firefox, but there are a couple features I miss about IE.

Much as web designers rant, however justifably, about how IE violates web standards, most of those complaints are about design, not user interface. Web developers have to use workarounds and take additional steps not so much to make their sites functional in all browsers but more to make their sites display the same for all browsers. Now you could argue that functionality is dependent on display, such as in the case of Eric Meyer's cool pure CSS menus, which simply don't work in IE, but for the most part the reason IE's rule breaking annoys so many designers is aesthetics.

IE's rule breaking obviously isn't of much concern to its many users. Sure, a few are switching because of concerns about IE's security. However, the vast majority of web surfers go about their business quite happily with IE. Some might call these people naïve, but surely a few count as power users who simply like some IE features.

And that's where I come to one feature I've found myself really missing just in a few days. I'm not talking about having to learn a new access key for the menu containing my bookmarks but rather a feature that impedes my work. Firefox's find text feature, though nifty (it finds as you type), is not as functional as that in IE because Firefox doesn't search inside <TEXTAREA> input boxes on forms. IE's does.

Why does that matter, you may ask. Well, this very blog, though not maintained with a blogging tool, is updated via a database and web forms. After I type this entry up, I look at my blog in a browser, and I notice some mistake that I want to edit (say I misspelled "TEXTAREA" as "TXETAREA"). I go back to the page with my form, and I could scroll down in the <TEXTAREA> until I see the word so I can fix it, or, in IE, I can type <CTRL>-F, type "TXETAREA" and hit <ENTER>. Boom, the word is highlighted, and I type my correction over it. In Firefox, I type /, type "TX" and it beeps at me to say there's no occurrence of "TX" on my page. Well, yes, there is, it's just inside the <TEXTAREA>.

Minor problem? Yes. Easy enough to work around? Yes. But features that help power users are important, which is why, for example, Firefox goes beyond IE's <CTRL>-<ENTER> for automatically adding the "www" and ".com" to a domain typed in the address bar to adding additional keyboard shortcuts for appending ".net" (<SHIFT>-<ENTER>) and ".org" (<CTRL>-<SHIFT>-<ENTER>). Your grandmother doesn't care about typing the URLs of non-profit organizations more quickly, but I do.

Copying and pasting, IE vs. Firefox

You can use any table, but here's the one I used.

Sure, you have to resize some columns,
but the data is still tabular.

You might as well retype all the data.
(Pasting as text works somewhat better.)
Perhaps a more important problem occurs when copying information from a browser window and pasting it into a Microsoft Office product such as Word or Excel. If I am using IE when I copy a table from a web site and paste it into an Excel worksheet, all the information is transferred nicely into individual cells, and all the formatting is the same. If I use Firefox, all the table's data ends up in one cell in Excel. Not user friendly at all. Should Mozilla care about supporting the patriarchy integration with standard business productivity products? They should if they want business people to use Firefox.

However, Mozilla does a lot of things better than Microsoft, and one thing is having a site, Bugzilla, on which users can report bugs or make feature requests. (Click here to vote for Mozilla fixing the copy/paste to Excel bug.) Microsoft may also have one (I didn't search for it, though, and didn't have to search for Mozilla's since they make its existence so clear), but Mozilla, as the underdog, has more reason to listen to its users. That's just one more reason to use Firefox instead of IE.
Thursday, September 16th, 2004
I've had the Mozilla Firefox web browser installed on my computer for some time but had stubbornly continued to use Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 for the most part, starting Firefox only once in while to see how my site looked in it. Today however I've finally made the switch to using Firefox as my default web browser.

The thing that clenched it for me was that for the past week or so IE has been locking up sporadically. Before you say it was something wrong with my computer and not IE let me tell you that it also happened at school too. And near as I can tell it wasn't just with one site, although there are of course a set of sites I visit regularly. It wasn't enough of a problem to keep me from doing what I wanted to do, but it was annoying, and today I decided it was annoying enough to make me switch.

However, Firefox also has some nice features not in IE. I really like the tabbed browsing instead of having multiple windows, although if you prefer multiple windows, Firefox of course lets you do that too. I like Firefox's built-in pop-up blocking (yes, I know that SP2 is supposed to add that to IE), which works better than the free version of Pop-Up Stopper I'd been using. Firefox's find feature is much more nifty than that of IE (speaking of which, doing a find for "it's" in IE always seems to make IE crash, at least for me). I'm sure I'll discover other nice features.

There were a few things on my site that either displayed differently or just didn't work right in Firefox (or for that matter in Opera, another browser I have installed), but some of that was due to ignorance on my part about CSS. For example, the menu on this page is an unordered list (<UL>) that displays as colored boxes because of CSS. IE didn't display the bullets that a normal unstyled list gets, but Firefox did until I figured out I had to add "list-style: none" to the CSS entry for <LI> (I'd had it on the id tag but not specifically on the <LI> for that id tag). Also my JavaScript in my galleries page wasn't cross-browser compatible until recently.

One last geeky thing is that Firefox's use of <ALT>-B for the "Bookmarks" menu as opposed to <ALT>-A for the "Favorites" menu in IE was driving me crazy (since I'm a big keyboard shortcut user), but I found a terrific page that explains step-by-step how to find and modify the browser.dtd file to change the names and accesskeys of menu items, so now my Firefox has a "Favorites" menu instead of a "Bookmarks" menu, along with the IE-compatible "Add favorite" and "Organize favorites" items. Yeah, I could have just gotten used to Firefox's key choices, but it was more fun to figure out how to change them.
 
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