Mozilla made a big marketing push last month for Firefox Quantum, the newest version of Firefox. I’d been using Safari for a solid five years but decided to give Firefox another shot. A big reason was that I was juggling thirty or so tabs in Safari, which has horrible UI for dealing with that situation: the tabs far from the current one are displayed as stubs with no identifying icon or text at all.1 I was intrigued by eevee’s mention of the Firefox-only Tree Style Tab extension, which seemed like it might be perfect for me. (This extension replaces the usual horizontal tab bar with a vertical, hierarchically-nested list of tabs in the browser’s sidebar.) It turns out that I like the extension quite a lot, although it’s not a “can’t live without it” feature for me yet.

Switching browsers didn’t take too much time—I keep passwords in 1Password and bookmarks in Pinboard, so there wasn’t much to migrate. I do wish that Firefox could have imported the list of currently-open tabs and that it could have pulled my old Favorites into the Top Sites list. (I also wish that it had been easier to move the data for my browser extensions, like Stylish, but that isn’t Mozilla’s fault.)

My main complaint so far is how Firefox chews through my battery. This problem was severe until I installed an ad blocker; now it’s merely annoying. Battery life and performance are the top priority for Apple’s Safari team and that’s really been hammered home to me by using a different browser. If I switch back to Safari this is likely to be why.

Firefox has a more Mac-like interface now than I remember from the mid-2000s. Two things still stick out as non-native: the appearance of tall <select> elements and the lack of system text shortcuts.

On macOS, dropdowns will take up most of the available screen height before they start scrolling. When that happens, arrows are shown at the top and/or bottom of the list, pointing to the top and/or bottom, to indicate that there are more items available. Firefox makes these boxes much shorter and uses a scroll bar to indicate that there has been overflow. We can debate the merits of these two approaches but I don’t think the Firefox behavior is better enough to justify replacing the system-standard behavior.

Text shortcuts in macOS let you define short pieces of text that will, when typed, expand into other (presumably longer or harder-to-type) pieces of text. These are supported in all native text fields on macOS2 but they don’t work in Firefox. I really miss the ability to type “bbb” and have it expand into my email address.

Finally, one feature that I wish Firefox would outright steal from Safari: If you open a link in a new tab and then press Command-[ to go back, Safari will just close the current tab. This might sound weird but it makes total sense when you try it: it means that the behavior of Command-[ is now the same regardless of whether you opened a new tab when you navigated to the current page. You no longer have to remember whether you need to press Command-[ or Command-W to go back.

Mozilla employee (and IndieWeb guru) Tantek Çelik asked which CSS features people want to see next. Two that I’ve missed recently—things that are available in Safari—are CSS Initial Letter for fancy drop caps and CSS Backdrop Filter for attractively blurred backgrounds. These are, admittedly, minor features, though. I’m gratified at just how much functionality the leading browsers share these days.

  1. You can get a nice visual overview of your tabs in Safari by choosing View → Show All Tabs or pressing Command-Shift-Backslash. This shows you a thumbnail of each tab and groups consecutive tabs from the same domain. Inexplicably, though, you can’t rearrange tabs in this view, and the tabs’ “close” buttons are so small that I often accidentally click on something else instead. ↩︎

  2. These text shortcuts are supposed to sync between macOS and iOS but for some reason this is notoriously unreliable. ↩︎