Why I use Firefox as my default browser
May 11, 2020
3 minute read
Since Firefox 5, I’ve been very vocal about my opposition against anyone using Firefox. Mozilla has definitely dropped the ball multiple times over the last decade, however I must say I am seeing a lot of things I like lately, after using Firefox Developer Edition (currently version 77b3) since April 2019. Here’s the list:
Scrolling is buttery smooth
Serious hats off to the team at Mozilla. I think it separates rendering and scrolling, so no matter what’s going on while the page is loading, scrolling is buttery smooth. I believe it’s related to the scroll-anchoring fix from last year and progress on WebRender.
Blink-based browsers still have a ton of jank for me and it’s even more apparent on the new Reddit design (which is bad in its own way, but that’s for another post). Chrome and the new Edge both exhibit choppy scrolling while background requests are made, and turning off network prediction no longer solves the issue.
This is honestly my primary reason for using Firefox full-time - it’s just so satisfying, no matter how badly-designed the website is, scrolling has zero jank.
Note: Do not enable the “gfx.webrender.all” about:config preference for max performance, it still needs a lot of work and the actual improvements are working their way into stable over time. Enabling this preference caused slowdowns for me.
No flash of un-styled fonts
This an admittedly small annoyance affecting WebKit and Blink browsers - they hold font rendering until the font is downloaded, causing text to not appear sometimes for several seconds. Firefox presents a fall-back font and then re-renders the text once the custom font is downloaded.
Firefox has always handled tons of tabs well, at least in terms of being able to read the titles on the tabs. When you have more tabs open than what fits on the tabstrip, Firefox has a minimum tab width and makes the tabstrip scrollable. Supposedly this is coming to Blink browsers eventually, but I have yet to see it, and right now those browsers are unusable if you go through a lot of tabs, especially memory-wise.
Still not as good as Opera 12 and before, with that satisfying tab grouping, but it’s still much better than Chrome and Edge right now.
Also, opening tabs in Chrome and Edge has always been choppy for me. Firefox is really smooth in this regard.
While it’s not as advanced as what you used to be able to do before they redid their UI engine to strip out XBL and make everything faster by switching to WebExtensions, it’s still pretty good. I’m not longer confined to keeping my extension buttons to the right of the URL bar and I can move them around in a way that makes more sense to me.
Also, you can change the UI density to take up less space, especially compared to Blink browsers:
Firefox (left), Edge (middle) Chrome (right)
Mozilla has been working on their developer tools for several years, and they’re really good right now. They don’t have built-in Google Lighthouse that seems to be all the rage these days for performance profiling, but there are some other niceties such as a way to find out which element is causing that annoying scroll overflow (coming soon):
Should you switch?
I’m optimistic things are only going to get better from here. If you’re tired of bad tab management and janky scrolling, I’d recommend switching.
Performance-wise, Firefox is on part with Blink right now in my opinion, and will only get better as WebRender improves. The engine performance wars are over in my opinion, they’re all fast enough and we’ve been in an area of diminishing returns for a while now. The new focus should be on UI and eliminating jank, and in that area, Firefox is ahead.