Posted on 18/7/06 by Felix Geisendörfer
I recently discovered that my (and propably many others) favourite browser, Mozilla Firefox can become your worst enemy when developing web sites.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's the most helpful tool for me when trying to get accessibility straight and do things right in general. I mean there are a lot of extensions that make my life a lot easier, but sometimes all of that is just working against you.
The case when this happens, is when you have your firefox setup really nicely and use it to test your web site. You'll only occasionally check if everything works and looks the same in the other browsers (ie, opera, ...), but then return to your comfortable little fox. If you are like me you've got a couple extensions like:
- Mouse Gestures, which will allow you to open & close tabs quicker then you can say 'firefox' out aloud
- AdBlock (with Filterset G.), which keeps all those annoying flash pop ups and other commercials away from you
- Web Developer Toolbar, which allows you to quickly enable/disable graphics, css, js, cookies and to analyze any site you might come across
- Some PageRank checker, which together with the Alexa rating allows you to guess on the traffic of the web site you view
- IE Tab, which quickly lets you switch to Internet Explorer if something doesn't work in FF
- Stumble Upon, which is useful for bookmarking things real quick that you might want to come back to later on without leaving a mess in your FF bookmars
But that's not all, don't forget about the things that are directly build into firefox, most notably tabed browsing and the js debugger that won't create a little pop up if there was an error (like IE does).
Now you might say: What is bad about this? All those extensions sound really useful!
The answer is simple: They change the way you percieve the web (and the sites you build).
With all those extensions, browsing the web is incredibly more comfortable then it is for your average IE user (or even non-extensions ff/opera one). You simply don't get why people might complain that using your web site isn't easy, because when you use it, you open 3-5 tabs, not seeing the ads you might run yourself, not getting annoyed if some js messages pop up and so on. It's like you are driving a state of the art BMW and wondering why all those [put a shity car in here] drivers complain about the streets being in bad shape. You are living in a different world.
But it might even comes worse, some extensions can cause you to have issues: I recently realized that my Sessions Saver extensions is responsible for problems when uploading files. Messages like "A script is causing the site to run slowly" or a random instance of the message that pops up when you hit F5 on a page requested by a POST can be traced bag to bad code in there. You seriously will got nuts when you try to fix this in your code ; ). But that just as a side note, back to the main story:
What can you do about being a spoiled firefox user? Well the best thing for me has been to create a new, totally uncustomized firefox profile (run "firefox.exe -profilemanager" for this) and to do a complete "joe average" user session on the page you create using it. Don't use all the shortcuts you know, don't use tabbed browsing, use the back & forward key to navigate, and try to act like normal people do. You will find a lot of things that could need improvment in terms of usability that you weren't aware of before.
Another thing people forget about is to educate. If your site isn't only visted by geeks like this weblog is, why don't share some advices with your users? Use browser detection to check for IE users and display reasons to switch to firefox (specific to your site) to them. Do it in a discreet and not annoying manner and you might make people's day. Same goes for firefox users, display a hint showing a useful shortcut like "Hold Strg and Click on a link to open it in a new Tab" or "Press Strg + W to close one" to them and maybe make those tips links with more detailed informations about how they can utilize this to get a better experience on your web site (and the web in general). Yes, some people will already know this stuff, and might think "err, excuse me, I'm no idiot.", but the truth is, most people won't. They will appriciate it if you show them ways to save time by learning how to make a better use of their web browser.
But again, I think that you as web developer should sometimes go back to the basics and start to improve things from there. Because it will be a long time until you have 70%++ of (skilled) Firefox users visiting your site like here on ThinkingPHP ; ).
--Felix Geisendörfer aka the_undefined
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