When I switched from a Windows PC to a Mac in the autumn of 2006, I was very disappointed in my choice of Web browsers. As a confirmed Firefox user, I expected Mozilla's Mac browser to be a no-brainer. But after trying Firefox 1.5 and 2.0 for the Mac, I adopted Apple's Safari -- and haven't looked back. Now that Firefox 3.0 is out, though, is it finally the better choice for Mac OS X?
Safari has been the better browser on the Macintosh for a number of reasons. Among the annoyances is Firefox's more Windows-centric way of doing things -- it doesn't closely adhere to Apple's user-interface principles (which admittedly aren't all that well understood or followed by many native Mac applications).
Here's an example: Clicking on the "green + window" button in Safari makes Apple's browser expand to fit the width of the currently-loaded Web page -- a neat trick because in most cases, you don't need the page to be wider than that; you just want to be able to see the whole page. Firefox, however, treats the green button as a Windows-style maximize button, so it always expands the browser to your entire screen. As a cross-platform product, that's not surprising or terribly wrong. But it's an example of a lack of Mac integration that I miss in Firefox.
By far the bigger deal with earlier versions of Firefox concerned performance. Firefox 2 on the Mac OS X 10.4 loaded slowly, especially the first time you launched it after starting up the Mac. It also loaded Web pages sluggishly. In my personal experience, Firefox 2.0 was faster in OS X 10.5 "Leopard," but not by enough to significantly attract my attention.
By comparison, Safari launches very quickly, and its WebKit open-source Web-page rendering engine loads most pages in lickety-split fashion. Initially, I did have a hard time warming up to Safari's squared-off, drab gray look. The best way to describe Safari is Spartan. But in the end, it was Safari's excellent overall performance that decided me.
There are other Mac options, such as Camino, Opera and OmniWeb. All have good points, but each also has glaring problems that rules it out of contention: Camino's lack of extensions and older Gecko engine, Opera's quirky interface and OmniWeb's lack of modern tabs.
Firefox 3 puts in the fix
There is one downside to Firefox 3, however. The first time you launch it after starting up OS X, Firefox 3 takes 5.5 seconds to open a blank page. By contrast, Safari 3.1.1 takes about half a second for the same task. It's a noticeable difference. If you're the kind of person whose Mac is always running, though, it's a moot point.
Firefox has also had perennial stability issues...