One of the things about using linux that can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, is the fact that most software you’re used to in Windows doesn’t run on it. So no Explorer, Internet Explorer, Winamp, iTunes, MSN Messenger, uTorrent, whatever. Of course you can argue that much of the MS software is bloated and crappy (IE and MSN come to mind), but that’s besides the point. You’re used to them, so switching takes a bit of work. With me it wasn’t any different.
What helped tremendously was the most famous piece of software that runs on both Windows and Linux (and indeed, Apple’s OS X too), which is Firefox. In fact, it was because of Firefox I realised there are alternatives to anything Windows comes up with. I had been using Total Commander and Trillian before (alternatives to Internet Explorer and MSN Messenger respectively), but they’re Windows-exclusive. I haven’t touched either of them in years, but Firefox stayed with me.
I remember it was who first recommended it to me, back when it was still called Phoenix, late 2002. I think it was version 0.3 or 0.4, which makes me one of the earliest adopters. It’s a silly thing to be proud of, and yet I am Even back them it blew me away with all its features, most of which are now adopted in other browsers. Tabbed browsing eliminated the need to have several browser windows open, which cluttered the taskbar. At this point, I regularly have up to ten or fifteen tabs open, something I could never have managed in Internet Explorer (which was at version 6 at that point, and didn’t have tabbed browsing, or indeed much of anything). Other wow-inducing features included the spell-checker, find-as-you-type, the download manager, and the oh so handy searchbar in the top right of the screen. Even better, if after all this I still felt there was a feature I’d like, I’d just hop over to the Firefox extensions page (called add-ons these days), and install it. My favourites have always been Tab Mix Plus, for even better tabbed browsing, and AdBlock Plus. Seriously, whenever I’m using another computer, I’m baffled how many crap commercials are displayed, to the point that I don’t even recognise some sites anymore.
So is it the perfect browser? Well, it’s close. Besides everything I just mentioned, it’s generally regarded as more secure. It’s debatable of course, but here’s an article that sheds some light on the subject.
There are still some websites that don’t display just right in Firefox, which is mostly because web designers don’t make their sites according to standards, but according to how Internet Explorer renders them. However, Firefox’s market share keeps rising, and now is at almost 18%.
It’s not really light-weight either. Although I always felt it’s snappier than Internet Explorer or, for example, Konqueror, it’s far from the speeds browsers like Epiphany or Kazehakase can achieve (keep in mind I mean the speed of the browser itself, not the time which it takes to load pages). However, with those light-weight browsers I always feel like I lose too much functionality, or my favourite key-shortcuts, or they’re just plain ugly. I always switched back to Firefox.
So if you’re one of the people still reading this (despite the depressing lack of updates, and the even more depressing linux-related topics), go and try Firefox. It’s the best browser out there.