I've been using firefox for the past week here are some initial thoughts
- Migration experience from IE was painless. All my favorites where easily imported, and the browser extensions that I care about seem to be supported.
- All my favorite sites work with minor visual issues. Most with no issues at all.
- Pages seem to load slower. I can see images download and update and I can see images render progressively. In internet explorer pages seem to 'pop in' instantly.
- In general FireFox seems to have less security dialogs, prompts, questions and interruptions then in IE. This is a good thing.
- Tabbed browsing is a nice option for advanced users. I like the fact that it's off by default. There is an advanced feature that allows you to have multiple home pages (one in each tab) this is very useful. It's perhaps not for everyone but it allows me to load up Google, News, weather and other starting point sites in one click.
- Firefox has a better password manager. It actually allows me to see my saved passwords, set a master password and edit saved passwords.
- Keyboard shortcuts seems to map to IE shortcuts so switching is easy.
- I'm not crazy about the look of the browser itself. The icons seem a little amateur. The fact that the browser support skins and themes is a nice touch and there are a lot of themes that I believe improve on the default look.
- Managing bookmarks is nicer then in IE. I've personally never been a bookmark person opting to use google to find my sites. The ability to actually manage 100's or 1000's of bookmarks is really powerful.
- Basic RSS support is included. Firefox shows you if the current site has a "RSS" feed and it allows you to easily add it as a live bookmark. This allows you to see the sub-articles expanded within the favorites menu. This isn't as useful as a built in RSS reader but it's better then nothing.
- Microsoft introduces the concept of a "Favorite Icon" that allows a website to have an icon for the site. Firefox takes this a step further allowing you to have an icon for every website you visit, not just your favorite ones. This makes it easy to identify tabs
- There is a built in Search toolbar that can be configured for Google or other search engines. This means you have one click access to google without making it your homepage.
- Downloading files in firefox is nicer then in IE. The dialog is simple and it helps clean up your temporary files after you've finished downloading.
- The address bar in FireFox shows you both the title of a page as well as the URL. This is useful when you have multiple URL's that look the same. Unfortunately you can't filter this list by the title you can only type filter by the URL (perhaps next version)
- Finding text on a web-page is much improved from IE. Firefox uses a find toolbar that allows you to quickly do incremental searches. Initially I thought it was odd that the toolbar was at the bottom of the screen however I now think it's ok as it's easier to keep the find window open all the time. It may be nice to have this as a dockable toolbar.
- I had problems with multi-monitor support. I kept getting my right click menu on the wrong monitor.
- Alternate Style Sheets - This is a niche feature but a useful one. It allows websites to publish alternative style sheets for their designs. This could allow things like an accessible stylesheet, a high resolution style-sheet, a PDA or phone style sheet, etc. So far I have found few sites that allow this but it is a powerful feature for the future.
- Help documentation isn't great. The help files aren't focused on user tasks and are more geared to feature descriptions and keywords. Refocusing the text toward user centric tasks rather then technical terminology would be a good thing.
What's in it for developers
- CSS support in Firefox is better then IE and I'm able to develope pages faster by debugging in Firefox and then backfixing bugs in IE.
- Firefox allows you to select a block of text and "view-selection source" this is a super useful feature since you can find the snipet that you need quickly.
- Firefox is available on multiple OS platforms so you can test on one platform and know that the page will work in other operating systems. This is not true for IE.
Minor UI nits
- Form elements that use the label control don't properly show hover effects on checkboxes and radio buttons.
- Scrollbars are missing the scroll to here shortcuts.
- Back and Forward split button toolbars don't show the split when you hover over the splitbar.
- Firefox is ready for prime time. There's no serious reason why you shouldn't switch.
- If you've thought about it you should dive in head first, make it the default browser for a week and see what you think. You can always switch back if needed.
- If you're a web-developer I would recommend switching as it will make you more productive.
(Next month I may try out Opera and do a browser shootout )