Firefox Is Back With Its Quantum Update
DEAR CHROME USERS: If you haven’t tried the new Firefox, give it a go. Sure, some Chrome power users might not be convinced, but for privacy-conscious users who grit their teeth and use Chrome for its speed, Firefox 57 may upset the status quo.
Despite the drama surrounding operating systems, the web browser is central to today’s computing experience. For most PC users, the majority of work and social media use, and media consumption is handled by a web browser. For the Linux community, this has meant using one of the two good defaults that come in most distributions: Firefox or Chromium.
For years, Chromium (and Chrome) have reigned supreme due to page loading speed and lower memory use. But while Firefox was slower than Chrome, Mozilla’s browser focused on security and privacy. Users could be confident that telemetry data wasn’t being fed back to Big Brother in Mountain View to be used to generate ad revenue. Firefox’s solid base is implemented in the Tor Browser, for instance. But for some reason, Firefox was plagued by sluggish page loads and memory usage, that sent people scrambling back to Google’s warm embrace.
On November 14, Mozilla released Firefox 57—or Firefox Quantum—for mobile and PC platforms. No longer wishing to play second fiddle, Firefox is now much snappier and easier on the RAM. Its blog says that contributors triaged some 369 performance- related bugs alone. The UI remains fairly minimalistic, though Firefox adopted a flatter appearance that helps unify the mobile and desktop experience. Speaking of desktop, Firefox 57 looks great on HiDPI screens on GNOME with Wayland.
One thing I find handy out of the box is Firefox 57’s screenshot tool. If you’ve ever used a web clipper from Evernote or OneNote, Firefox’s implementation will feel familiar, though much faster and more intuitive. Once you take a screenshot, you have the option to save it on your local machine or upload it. Once uploaded, it is publicly available on a Mozilla server for 14 days by default. You can set retention time to a custom value, or even make it permanent.
The screenshot tool integrates with Firefox’s new library menu, which is a welcome addition. This combines quick access to Pocket, your downloads, history, screenshots, and bookmarks in a single menu. While this sounds busy, it’s laid out pretty intelligently, and keeps toolbar clutter to a minimum. I haven’t used a browser to save information for some time, instead opting for apps such as Evernote or Pocket for clipping and article saving. With this new functionality, Firefox edges into some of those convenience features, making it easy to save and recall information in your browser again.
While this update has a lot to enjoy, it falls short in one key area: There is little official support for offline or “standalone” Firefox apps. One of the coolest things about Chromium is that I can “install” a web app, such as Evernote or Spotify, add it to my application menu, and launch it in a standalone window (without tabs or a toolbar), so it feels like a native desktop app. Work has been done to be able to make Firefox compatible with Chrome apps, but the implementation is not as simple as it is in Chrome. Support for standalone Chrome apps is the main reason I will likely keep Chromium around.
I also noticed that Firefox 57 still mucked up my YubiKey authentication when logging into my Google account. After several tries, I had to start Chromium in Incognito mode just to see if it was a bad USB port, or if my YubiKey had gone on the fritz. Sure enough, Firefox couldn’t handle Google’s two-factor authentication. Logging into the LastPass extension presented no problems when the app asked for the YubiKey two-factor auth.
I have to say, I’m impressed with the new Firefox, and I’m looking forward to using it more as a daily driver. After all, if Mozilla’s zippy new browser somehow manages to piss me off, Chromium will be there to pick up the slack.
Firefox looks great, loading pages lightning-fast.