I have been in an on-and-off relationship with Mozilla Firefox for the past five years. Every time I’d get ecstatic over a major new Firefox update — hoping to, at long last, break free from the hegemony of Google Chrome — my hopes would be squandered as soon as I began browsing the web like I normally do.
Firefox’s performance would fall noticeably short and struggle to keep up with my workflow, sending me scurrying back to Google Chrome after a few minutes of poking around. No matter how compelling the rest of Mozilla’s offerings were, they could never convince me to hit that “Yes” button whenever Firefox asked whether I’d like to set it as my default browser. Catching up to Chrome almost started to seem like a far-fetched goal for Firefox — until recently.
In November, fed up with Chrome’s resource-hogging practices and Google’s growing web monopoly, I gave Firefox another shot. Similar to my earlier experiments, I updated Firefox to the latest version, fired up my usual set of web apps, and crossed my fingers. And somehow, months later, I’m still writing this piece in Google Docs on Firefox.
What kept me using Firefox
The biggest draw for me was, of course, the fact that Mozilla Firefox can finally go toe-to-toe with Google Chrome on the performance front, and often manages to edge it out as well. But that didn’t happen overnight.
Since Firefox’s 2017 overhaul, Mozilla has been pushing updates around the clock.
Today, in addition to being fast, Firefox is resource-efficient, unlike most of its peers. I don’t have to think twice before firing up yet another tab. It’s rare that I’m forced to close an existing tab to make room for a new one. On Firefox, my 2015 MacBook Pro’s fans don’t blast past my noise-canceling headphones, which happened fairly regularly on Chrome as it pushed my laptop’s fans to their helicopter-like limits to keep things running.
This rare balance of efficiency and performance is the result of the countless under-the-hood upgrades Firefox has rolled out in the last couple of years. One of the recent major performance updates arrived in May when Mozilla natively integrated a handful of clever optimizations for which users previously had to rely on third-party extensions.
Starting from v.67, Firefox began breaking down webpages to understand which components need to be rendered first and which ones can wait. For instance, on a news website, it will load an article’s content before all the ads and newsletter modules. This prioritization trick allows Firefox to process popular websites like Amazon and Instagram anywhere from 40% to 80% quicker. Plus, Firefox suspends tabs you haven’t visited in a while when your computer is running low on memory.
Apart from these big releases, Firefox has also gained plenty of little, yet significant updates. In October, Mozilla’s engineering team managed to circumvent a critical macOS limitation to make Firefox more power-efficient on Macs. In most scenarios and websites, this alteration managed to nearly halve the power usage. Most recently, Mozilla quickly patched a zero-day exploit that left your computer open to dangerous hacks.
A better browsing experience
Once I got past that performance barrier, it was also quickly apparent to me how vastly superior the rest of Firefox’s browsing experience was.
Privacy is the centerpiece of most of Mozilla’s efforts and the Firefox browser is no different. Its Enhanced Tracking Protection framework keeps your identity safe by blocking trackers and cookies that otherwise follow you around the internet and collect sensitive information you probably didn’t even know you were giving up.
Privacy is the centerpiece of most of Mozilla’s efforts and the Firefox browser is no different.
On top of that, Firefox can warn if a website is covertly mining cryptocurrency in the background. Most of these protections kick in by default and you have an exhaustive set of options to customize them the way you want.
Firefox also lets you look into just how invasive a website is. It actively updates your personal privacy report so you can check how many trackers it has shut overall and for a specific website.
There is a range of Mozilla first-party add-ons you can install for better security. Firefox Monitor tells you if any of your credentials have been compromised in a breach. Firefox Lockwise is a free, encrypted password manager you can use to sync your accounts across devices.
Mozilla’s design language is also a lot more coherent. Its interfaces and themes feel and look modern with subtle accents, its settings are descriptive and approachable, and all of that stays true for Firefox’s mobile clients too.
It also offers a handful of useful tools built-in. The screenshot utility can automatically detect a website’s individual sections, like a paragraph, allowing you to quickly capture precisely what you need to. There’s a reader mode, picture-in-picture for watching videos in a floating window, and native integration of the Mozilla-owned read-later service, Pocket. In addition, it stuns notification pop-ups to make them less intrusive and disables autoplay videos.
Getting away from Google
What really clinched the switch to Mozilla Firefox was the fact that it’s the only cross-platform browser that’s not running Google’s open-source Chromium platform. Microsoft’s Edge, Brave, Opera, Vivaldi — each of these browsers run on Chromium, accelerating Google’s dominance over the web even when you’re not directly using a Chrome user. Firefox, on the other hand, is powered by Mozilla’s in-house Gecko engine that’s not dependent on Chromium in any way.
It may not seem like as vital of a trait as I make it sound, but it truly is, even though Chromium is open-source. Google oversees a huge chunk of the web, including ads, browser, and search, and this supremacy has allowed the company to pretty much run a monopoly and set its own rules for the open internet.
Your move to Firefox won’t have a significant effect on this but it’s a step in the right direction.
Being a Mozilla customer instead of a Google user itself feels liberating as well. Mozilla as a company has, despite a rocky journey, often taken bold stances in complex situations. In the Cambridge Analytica aftermath, Mozilla announced it would no longer run Facebook advertisements, cutting off direct marketing to over 2 billion users.
In a world of tech companies taking frail, facile shots at protecting user privacy and barely delivering on their commitments, Mozilla is a breath of fresh air and you no longer have to live with any compromises to support it.