It’s kind of fun to see old (but good) ideas about usability and feature bloat return to the forefront in a product. Those of us who remember the night-and-day difference between the Macintosh and MS-DOS (or even Windows 3.1) think of this as axiomatic – that the software should get out of your way as much as possible, and just let you do what you’re trying to do.
Maybe I’m a rarity among software developers because I believe this, but I have hope, reading Blake Ross’ musings on his baby Firefox, that the idea may gain traction in the Free Software world, and hopefully also the software world at large. God knows we don’t need more Free Software interfaces like The GIMP, where I have to worry about window focus with every tap of the keyboard. Side note: I also enjoyed his link to the original mozilla/browser manifesto, if only for the quote “The personal toolbar is the personal toolbar, not the whorebar.”
Like a good Free Software disciple, I used Mozilla as soon as it was practical, but I never loved it. It had the same obnoxious kitchen-sink mentality of Netscape Communicator (although without the ads everywhere), and it took too long to load. Luckily, it was fast once it loaded.
On the other hand, I’ve liked Firefox from the beginning (when it was called mozilla/browser, then Phoenix, then Firebird, and then Mozilla Firebird), because it was just a web browser, and because it didn’t try to become part of my desktop like IE; or contain a mail client, newsreader, web page composer, and cappuccino machine like Communicator. I didn’t have to fiddle with Active Desktop settings, I didn’t have to configure a mail account just to launch the browser, I didn’t have Composer popping up when I wanted to view the source – it was wonderful!
I was using Camino on my iBook for a while for the same reasons, but the development pace slowed when Dave Hyatt went to work for Apple on Safari, and it wasn’t keeping up – still isn’t, to be brutally honest. I still use Safari on my iBook (it’s that load-time thing again), not Firefox, but I never use IE on Windows anymore unless I am forced to for ActiveX, or by a brain-dead browser-sniffer. It was a brilliant choice on the part of the Firefox team to make the installer not require Administrator privileges just to install, by the way. It’s made it possible to install it on all the machines I use at work (well, all the Internet-connected ones, anyway). Too bad corporate IT departments are always so far behind the times – I fear it might be years before they install Firefox on our machines for us.