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Light, fast Firebird browser gets it right

By   |  August 11, 2003

Mozilla\’s Firebird browser is fast, very fast. And with one of the most attractive interfaces around the browser promises to be a real contender in the fight for the Internet desktop. Here two users, one on Linux and the other on Windows, offer opinions on what makes Firebird so attractive.

Alastair Otter (Firebird 0.6 on Linux)
I have been a long-time user of the various Mozilla browser products on my Linux machines. In part because very little else was on offer, and in part because I like the philosophy behind Mozilla. But the ride has not always been an easy one and I have become accustomed to being blocked from sites because of using a \”non-standard\” browser; or having it crash on me because of incompatibilities; or worse, not being able to do my banking online because my browser was not recognised. I\’ve also waded through the, in my opinion, overly-large Mozilla suites with all the bells and whistles, many of which I have never used.

But that all changed a couple of months ago when I discovered the Firebird browser, a lightweight XUL-based browser that although still in its early days of development has already become my favourite browser. And not withstanding the warnings that the current version (0.6.1) is a technology preview version, I\’ve suffered fewer crashes than on I previously did on the more mature Mozilla and Netscape products.

Built with \”streamlining\” in mind, Firebird is almost stark in design with very little in the way of menus and toolbars. What this does do is offer a noticibly larger viewing area with very little extraneous clutter, something I am particularly pleased about. Of course if you feel the urge you could add in every possible toolbar and extension and quickly make it look like some of the competitors, because the one thing Firebird is not short of is extensions. The difference is most of these are left out of the default product but can be added in one at a time when you need them.

There are a number of features that make Firebird a winner in my eyes. The first two are the tabbed windows the browser offers and the second, related to this, is the ability to save all tabs in a single action into a bookmark folder. I typically do research on the Internet and have six, seven or even more sites open at at any one time. Rather than having to bookmark the sites one at a time, Firebird has a bookmarks option to save all of them into a single folder in your bookmark menu.

Another reason to use Firebird is the vastly improved configuration options offered. In many browsers changing settings is a labour intensive operation. With Firebird the most commonly used settings are immediately available and only if you want something more complex do you have to dig. And even then it is just a single click away in most cases.

There are quirks in Firebird 0.6.x but these are to be expected given its early stages of development. One of these are the issues that some versions have around using the \”mailto\” property on Web sites. The other is the \”search\” facility provided in the default toolbar. My Linux version (0.6) allows you to enter a search term and it will fetch the results from Google. On the Windows version we tested(0.6.1) the same action does a search for the text on the Web site loaded at the time.

For some, however, the \”leanness\” of Firebird might be off-putting. After all, many users still rely on the email client of the Mozilla browser for doing their correspondence. Firebird doesn\’t have an email client built in and there are no plans to include one in the near future. The good news, however, is that the Thunderbird project has just released version 0.1 of its mail client which is closely allied to Firebird although a different product.

Firebird in its current form still has issues. Clearly until it reaches version 1.0 no-one can expect it to be bug free and full-featured. But in its current form it is already my browser of choice and it bodes well for a full-featured competitor to other major browsers out there.

Iwan Pienaar (Firebird 0.6.1 on Windows)
Devout Internet users are constantly on the lookout for browsers that are able to improve their online experience. While certain companies bemoan this freedom of choice, it is inevitable that people will always be searching for their next favourite Internet browser.

The fact is that it is getting easier to download, install and uninstall an Internet browser on your Windows machine. Gone are the days where users are stuck with the default Internet Explorer browser.

The Mozilla Firebird build 0.6.1 has recently been made available for download. While some dial-up users may balk at the 7MB download, the 5MB to 15MB file size is almost becoming the de facto standard for browsers, especially for Java-enabled ones.

It takes up just under 16MB of memory usage on a standard Windows installation with Internet Explorer weighing in at slightly more than 17MB. While this might not seem like a big difference at first, users will be surprised to see how fast Firebird runs.

Obviously, there is still a lot of work to be done before Firebird 1 hits the Web but it does look promising.

Mozilla users should be familiar with most of the standard features of the browser like the window tabs and general layout.

A nice addition to the browser layout is the Find Text box next to your URL address field. This enables users to quickly search for specific text on that particular Web page.

For the more private conscious surfers, there is an option to clear all personal information from the browser that includes the cache, used passwords and history.

The majority of Internet sites I visited during the week or so of using Firebird worked and appeared as they would on Internet Explorer. Online banking and other secure e-commerce sites also perform with this \”non-standard\” Internet browser.

While not necessarily a Mozilla technology, I would have liked to see the introduction of mouse gestures. This may seem like a novelty, but one can quickly get used to surfing the Internet without using a keyboard much.

Overall, Firebird does offer glimpses of being a solid browser. Once the final version is released, it will probably become one of my favourite browsers for some time to come.

Firebird Features:

– Comprehensive popup controls to keep unwanted advertising off your desktop.
– A tab browsing mode that lets you open several pages in a single window, allowing you to load links in the background without leaving the page you\’re on.
– Integrated Google search.
– industry leading accessibility with Find As You Type – find links and page text by simply typing.
– Simplified privacy controls that let you cover your tracks more effectively.
– A streamlined browser window that lets you see more of the page than any other browser while at the same time being more configurable.
– A large variety of free downloadable extensions and themes that add specific functionality and visual changes to the browser.

For more on Firebird and the Mozilla roadmap: Mozilla Roadmap


One Response to “Light, fast Firebird browser gets it right”

  1. Ian Gilfillan
    August 20th, 2003 @ 12:00 am

    Mozilla Firebird is my new favourite browser. I love tabbed browsing, but Netscape/Mozilla are too slow, so I found myself drifting back to IE. Not any more.
    Only downside is I can\’t use my Icanonline account with it.

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