Why I switched back to IE

4:36am 13th July 2007

I don't want to go into the history of the browser war, anyone interested in this post's title will likely already be familiar with it. However, one fact seems to have been forgotten. Back when Netscape was the dominant browser, and Microsoft's IE was the underdog gaining ground and eventually obliterating Netscape's presence in the market, IE was, at that time, a better product. OK fine, Microsoft used completely unfair tactics to win that war, however Netscape took too long to make their browser free, and more importantly, the Gecko rendering engine genuinely wasn't as fast or well featured as the engine used in IE. At the time, standards weren't as important as getting one up on your competitor (that's realistically still the case today), so IE genuinely was a better product.

Fast forward 10 years. It's 2007 and Browser Wars 2.0 is in full swing. While IE is king of the hill, Netscape Navigator now known as Firefox, has been resurrected and is giving its old foe a serious run for its money. The IE development torch has been reignited after years of complacency, with IE7 being released as a major reinvention of itself with some key missing features having been added and deficiencies fixed. Firefox is gaining ground on IE. Many of the reasons for Firefox's popularity include security, reliability, speed and geeky fanboy factor. I was a very ardent Firefox user and supporter.

But now I've had it. Enough is enough. Many of the reasons that I switched to and liked Firefox are now no longer present, and many of the gripes I had with IE have been addressed. I'm one of a growing number of people who feel that Firefox has lost the luster that it once had as a shining example of just how good open source software could be.

The biggest and most inexcusable issue with Firefox is its absolutely abysmal memory bloat. I am using Firefox to write this entry, and it is currently using 202mb of memory. The worst part about that? It's a good day. Firefox can take up to double that. I wouldn't mind so much, if that meant the application behaved snappily and rendered pages quickly, traversing cached content as fast as I'd expect local content to be traversed. But Firefox slows down, response time when switching between tabs is poor, and occasionally the entire application freezes for up to 30 seconds. I'm talking total, absolute, lockup, where Windows Task Manager reports "Not Responding" in the application status. Not cool!

The other major gripe I have may not be with Firefox, but with the Gecko rendering engine that it uses. Rendering speed has become mediocre. When browsing local pages, IE7 feels so much faster than Firefox. Even if the local content is very lightweight, hand-crafted, perfectly valid code, Firefox still does not feel responsive at all. The same pages feel snappy and responsive when clicking around them in IE. It seems to me that there is some fixed rendering cost to loading a page in Gecko regardless of how heavy the markup is, and this fixed cost per page load results in what appears to be sluggish response.

IE on the other hand has fixed some of the standards compliance bugs that plagued developers under IE6. XHTML being sent with the content header "application/xml" still does not render at all, which is disappointing, however overall, IE7 is a great improvement over IE6. It supports the PNG image format, and one of my favorite web effects, the famous Complex Spiral demo, now works thanks to proper support for the "background-attach: fixed;" attribute.

The continuing downside with IE7 and the reason I will likely still use Firefox for development purposes is the availability of developer tools. IE has none, while FF has a plethora of extremely useful tools such as LiveHTTPHeaders, HTMLValidator, Web Developer Toolbar, Firebug and many, many more. This pehaps illustrates the different target markets of IE and FF. FF is, was and will be for the forseable future, the browser for the technically savvy.

So, for general browsing and when I'm not working on projects, I think I'm going to stick with IE, as I've just had it with all of Firefox's deficiency creep. Up until now Firefox and IE have ruled the market as rivals for the throne, but Firefox is starting to fail on the needs of the very tech crowd that carried it to fame. Unless Firefox 3 comprehensively solves a significant number of the major problems, I predict that the browser market will be thrown open for more players such as Opera and Safari to gain traction, and the duopoly will end. I only hope the Firefox developers know just how much is resting on their ability to deliver in the next year or so.

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيم

2:16am 10th July 2007

After much fussing, delaying and procrastination, I finally have UTF-8 and Unicode support in my blog. The title of this entry is the first one containing only multibyte characters. Those of you able to read Arabic should recognize the phrase. I've also added next and previous buttons to the gallery, which was a big missing feature.

So yeah, being back in Melbourne after traveling is a little depressing. There's to-do lists to catch up on and paperwork to finish and lots of other unpleasant things like that. I'm hoping to be up to date in about 2 weeks so I can head out again. I'd like to go visit South Africa soon, I want to go and try out the dive sites in Durban and perhaps get to see the migrating sand tiger sharks as they pass Aliwal Shoal.

I've also put on about 10kg extra of weight around the middle. I need to nip this in the bud, as given my diet, I'm going to wake up one morning looking like a whale. I need a new pair of running shoes so I can start doing that again in the mornings.

Around the world in 18 days

12:20am 5th July 2007

Well I'm back home, finally. After perhaps clicking up the most number of miles in a single trip ever, I arrived home to a welcoming family and much relieved mother.

It's been a great trip, I've met some interesting people and discovered many wonderful new things. I've gotten involved in the CouchSurfing project, and spent a night out in Zürich getting to know the Swiss locals. I've been the see the famous Bridge on the RIver Kwai in Thailand, and patted an enormous Tiger. I've been to a music festival in The Hague where I met some fellow Aussies. All in all, I've done heaps this trip.

It occurred to me that I parted company with Rap in Bangkok airport on the 16th of June, and arrived in Melbourne on the 4th of July. In that time, I'd left Bangkok, flown to Frankfurt, taken a train to Rotterdam, taken a bus and train to Amsterdam, flown to Basel, taken a train to Zürich and then back to Basel, another train back to Frankfurt, flown back to Bangkok and then finally flown to Melbourne. So, I can say that I really have been around the world in 18 days. Well, except for the Americas, they're still on the list of places to go.