Why Firefox is still a great browser in 2021

I see A LOT of hate for Firefox in recent years and while I do hate some things Mozilla does to Firefox and all that, the fact is, Firefox is still the most versatile browser available across all the platforms you can imagine and it’s fully open source too. And it has quite some pretty cool and unique features not found in any other browser. Lets check out few of them that I can’t live without and them being entirely absent in other browsers makes me not want to use those browsers. In fact, it just makes me confused how people prefer dumb Chrome so much when it has none of this cool stuff that makes browsing the web such pleasant experience.

Super customizable interface

Despite all the hate new Proton interface design gets, Firefox is the only browser that allows you to move actual browser elements like buttons and fields around. Granted, it used to be far more customizable in the past where you could literally move ANY browser button or element anywhere, but being able to move around bookmarks bar, search bar, as well as ANY button almost anywhere you want or even remove them entirely is pretty cool and unique. Only browser that comes anywhere close is Vivaldi, but you can’t move stuff around in real-time, you have to dig settings for all of it through main settings which is clumsy and still limited.

Just right click on empty part of tab bar on top and select “Customize Toolbar…”. You can also remove things from interface by right clicking on nearly any button or element and selecting “Remove from Toolbar”. All removed elements are stored in “Customize Toolbar…” menu from where you can just drag them back where you want them if you desire to do so.

Here are some examples of what you can do…

Better extensions

Firefox was one of the first if not actually the first browsers to offer extensions. These small addons allow you to add extra functionality to browser that doesn’t come out of the box with the browser. And from my experience of using them for many many years, Firefox still has one of the best selections of extensions. And not just that, for some reason extensions in Firefox always feel like they are more polished and done better even if they are the same extensions that are also found in Opera, Edge, Brave, Vivaldi and Chrome. They just work better and have less of dumb restrictions as well as just not being so hungry on the memory. And what I like the most, it’s up to YOU if you want them to be visible or not in toolbars and where you want to have them exactly. All other browsers have this stupid dedicated “Addons/extensions” button in the dedicated extension bar that’s always in the browser main toolbar whether you like it or not and it just hides extensions within it, if you don’t want to have their actual extension icons in the toolbar. Well, since Firefox interface is almost fully customizable, you can not only hide extension icons entirely, you can actually move them pretty much anywhere you want. Do you want some extension’s icon to be in the tab bar? You can drag it there if you want. Do you  want it on the left side next to Back/Forward, Refresh and Home buttons? Yes, you can put it there. Do you want it between Back and Forward buttons? Just drag it there! Or you can just remove it entirely from the interface and it’ll keep on working behind the scenes and not be visible to you at all. And because Mozilla is not money grabbing corporation like Google, they don’t do dumb shit like removing API’s that are required for Adblockers to work correctly and efficiently, meaning extensions often have more power to manipulate webpages than in other Chrome based browsers unless its developers specifically ignore Google’s idea of web and still allow it. Which requires extra effort and time on their side, meaning they might not always do it.

Super portable

You can grab portable version of Firefox from here. While some other browsers offer similar thing, they are for the most part super clumsy to work with and often don’t auto update which makes them really annoying to maintain. Not so much Firefox Portable. It’s super flexible and it’ll work almost in any way you can imagine or hack yourself. You can even simply extract installer files obtained from Mozilla’s FTP and drop them into portable folder if you want to use latest version, but you don’t want to wait for auto updater to pick it up which usually takes a day or two after it lands on FTP. Or convert stable version of Firefox Portable into a Nightly. And it’ll just work. It’s just cool and gives flexibility to more advanced users.

Reliable sync across all devices

My biggest issue with most other browsers is their stupid selective option to sync bookmarks, history and other stuff across devices. Chrome works for a while, but other browsers were and still are a total mess. Brave had syncing problems for months and have just fixed it recently to finally be able to sync across all devices and it’s still very glitchy and I had to rename folders and move them around after importing for it to start syncing them. Vivaldi for example doesn’t even have an iOS version yet which makes it a no go entirely. Opera, used to have fully working sync in iOS via Opera Mini and ever since they sacked it years ago, there is just nothing. On iOS, Opera Touch (now renamed to Opera Browser) only has useless MyFlow which sounds like an app to track your period and acts like a one way messenger where you send yourself snippets of things, but you can’t sync bookmarks between all devices and always have them at hand. Ridiculous and retarded beyond belief.

Very flexible bookmarks

While we all take bookmarks for granted these days, there is still an issue with how most browsers want to shove all the bookmarks in your face and only allow you to have them fully visible. All of them. Or they are super clumsy to work with bookmarks because they behave like a webpage instead of a proper list selection like in Firefox. It’s just so much easier to copy, move, delete or even mass select bookmarks because all the commands like Ctrl+A to select all bookmarks in your view works so flawlessly. Vivaldi was a nightmare to work with as it was so stubborn with insisting its own weird ways of what’s Bookmarks bar and didn’t obey what I wanted, Brave is still all buggy and allows you to Copy or Cut bookmarks using Ctrl+C and Ctrl+X, but then doesn’t allow you to paste it with Ctrl+V for some dumb reason and you need to use right click context menu instead to paste them. WTF!? Or most often than not, when you hit Ctrl+A and it just selects entire window, including menus and buttons of the bookmarks manager, not just the actual bookmark entries inside of it. I hate that so much. It’s insane how something as simple as bookmarks management is done so idiotically and super clumsy in all other browsers, but just works right in Firefox.

In addition to that, Firefox segments bookmarks into 4 separate groups for additional organizing so you always know where things are exactly and you’re not forced to use them if you don’t want to, even though they are fixed there and can’t be deleted as such. These groups are:

  • Bookmarks Toolbar
  • Bookmarks Menu
  • Other Bookmarks
  • Mobile Bookmarks

Bookmarks Toolbar is meant to keep most regularly used bookmarks right in front of you at all times. Be it as separate bookmarks or even neatly organized in subfolders if you have tons of them.

Bookmarks Menu is dedicated folder for an extra button with same name that you can find when right clicking tab bar and selecting “Customize Toolbar…” It gives access to all bookmarks, but you can also put bookmarks in it to give them a focus in this button. Especially if you disable Bookmarks bar entirely and you use Bookmarks Menu button to access the bookmarks directly. Since I don’t use this category I just use it to store bookmarks that I don’t want to come up in any other menu. For example bookmarks to my favorite extensions and all the custom keywords and search engines stored as bookmarks, that I’ll talk about more in few moments…

Other Bookmarks can be used for bookmarks that you want to have stored, but you don’t want them visible at all times. You can enable or disable Other Bookmarks button in the Bookmarks Toolbar too if you wish. I mostly use this one for unsorted stuff. Like, when you are browsing around and you just click the star button in the URL bar to quickly save a bookmark without much hassle and you’ll check it out later. You know, all the misc bookmarks that you don’t want in front of you, but you want them there. And you have them separate from the rest so there is no mistake what they are.

Mobile Bookmarks is reserved for bookmarks saved on your mobile device that is then synced across all your devices. You can freely move bookmarks in it or from it depending on where you want them. But it’s a dedicated section so you always know it was bookmarked on your mobile device which helps with organizing of bookmarks.

Custom keyword searches and syncing of keywords and search engines

Another cool feature I can’t live without are keywords and custom searches. While some other browsers have search keywords and allow adding custom searches, NONE of them allows syncing of all this. After years of use you can create tons of custom keywords and search engines for various things and it really sucks hard having to re-do them every time you reinstall browser or operating system. And you have to re-do them on all your systems. Well, Firefox doesn’t have this issue and you can not only store keywords and custom search engines within bookmarks, because you can do so, they can actually get synced across all devices. Add custom search on one system and it’ll sync to all systems within the sync you’re using. And they are super useful.

Keywords can be any word or even a single or two letters. You use DuckDuckGo, but need Google as fallback anyway? Set “g” keyword for Google search and you can type search terms directly into URL bar with keyword in the front and it’ll search that word directly in that search engine. For example “g geforce rtx 3080” and it’ll automatically search for “geforce rtx 3080” using Google Search. Assuming you set a keyword for it beforehand (some are included by default which you can see or change in Firefox Search settings). You need to use dictionary regularly because you’re not a native English speaker? Set “d” as keyword for dictionary.com and you can type “d intriguing” into URL bar and it’ll look up “intriguing” directly in dictionary.com webpage. It’s so cool you don’t even need a dedicated search field anymore in the interface.

The above is example that I made for Geizhals.eu which is one of my favorite sites to search for good prices on tech stuff in Europe. I don’t have to open webpage first via bookmark and then manually search in it. I just type keyword and what I want to search for into URL bar and it opens up the webpage and already searches for the word I was looking for. It’s insanely convenient and fast and I can’t imagine searching online without this anymore. You can do this to any search engine or webpage that has search field and it’s ridiculously fast and convenient and because it can be synced across your devices you don’t have to manually add all of this for every webpage on every system. It works even on mobile versions of Firefox as it syncs keywords and search engines there too. Example above stored the keyword bookmark into bookmark toolbar. If you don’t want it visible there just move it to Other Bookmarks folder and it’ll still sync across devices as bookmark, but won’t be in your view all the time.

It sounds super complicated and like it requires a lot of effort, but it’s actually really simple and I guarantee, you won’t be able to browse the web without it anymore.

Super customizable and tweakable

While there were changes and limitations to ways how you can modify or tweak Firefox, it’s still browser that gives you the most freedom. We already talked about interface itself in the beginning, but there is more! Either by countless official settings found in Settings menu to bunch of hidden settings and tweaks under about:config menu (just type “about:config” without quotes into the URL bar and slam ENTER). Chrome based browsers also have a similar thing under about:flags, but the stuff there is next to useless as it’s just bunch of very gimmicky settings that don’t really affect much of anything. In Firefox however, you can change some pretty dramatic things with it.

Want to enable experimental features like new rendering engines or multi-process subsystems before they are officially supported? You can do that. Do you hate how all browsers close entirely when you close the last tab? I know I fucking hate that dumb shit and only way to fix that in most Chrome based browsers is to use extensions which all behave like some half baked hack. You can adjust that too in about:config. Want to have HTTPS padlock icon in green instead of default grey? Bam, you can do that too. Not using Pocket, screen capture tool or Developer tools? You can fully disable all this too. Not using Sync feature? You can entirely disable and remove that from menus too using single setting in about:config! Possibilities are almost endless for as long as Mozilla doesn’t hardcode a feature and can’t be changed at all. And while there are some such settings, most of them allow tweaking that other browsers just don’t have.

And if about:config just feels way too overwhelming with its endless parameters that you have no clue what they even do, well, I got you covered with that too with my Firefox Tweaker tool. You can grab it here on my blog. It’s a tweaking tool that allows you to adjust curated set of tweaks and settings using relatively simple interface where you tick few checkboxes and you’re done. All accompanied with simplified names and descriptions what they do. And if you mess it up, you can always restore it back to default if you wish in few clicks.

Powerful Tracking Protection built-in

Mozilla has been aggressively pushing anti-tracking features and Firefox is loaded with them. And while they are not full on adblocking features because they still believe ads can be beneficial part of the web to keep it free, they don’t agree with tracking methods used by advertisers. Built-in anti-tracking tech is pretty powerful and they made pretty big advancements to keep users safe from trackers and not break webpages while doing that.

Performance

People still often complain how Firefox is so much slower than Chrome based browsers. But I’m not sure where people are getting these metrics from. Sure, in all pure JavaScript/WebAssembly benchmarks it’s slower, but on real webpages that are a mix of all sorts of things, I honestly cannot see any difference. Common webpages that tend to be slow are slow in both, Firefox and Brave, even though Brave scores almost 2x points in all these benchmarks. There will always be webpages that might work faster in one and slower in other and vice versa. But I’ve never encountered any huge gaps between them.

And this is experience from variety of systems. I use a really low end ASUS Transformer netbook with Atom CPU, 2GB RAM and slow eMMC storage. I also use it on decent but already somewhat aged laptop with AMD Ryzen 2500U, 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD. I also use it on a high end system with AMD Ryzen 5800X, 32GB RAM and 2TB SSD. It works great within expectations for given system.

Verdict

Sure, there is plenty of things to hate about Firefox that are legit criticism, but there is also a lot of really cool things that are not found in ANY other browser or it’s present in very limited way or functionality. It’s actually so bad that even though I had a point where I said I’m done with Firefox and then realized all other browsers suck way harder. Just speed means nothing if I’m forced into doing things their way instead of browser adapting to my needs and Firefox just does that way better to a point I’m willing to forgive it occasional hiccups or dumb Mozilla’s design decisions, because I can for the most part revert them or change them. And in all honesty, I’ve been using Firefox since it’s very early versions (we’re talking before 1.0 here, the 0.x betas!) and I never actually had really huge problems with it.

This isn’t sponsored post or me being a fanboy of Firefox. It’s really the opposite. I hate tons of things that Mozilla does and its stupid fanbase defends. But ultimately, at the end of the day I despise Chrome even more and I can’t wrap my head around the fact it has like 80% market share. It’s the dumbest, most locked down and useless browser I’ve seen in my life and its only highlight is integration of Google’s crap people absolutely adore for some reason and raw speed in heavy JavaScript benchmarks. But function wise it’s pure garbage that needs billion extensions to be half useful and they just turn it into a fat sloth. Despite everything, Firefox is more flexible and can be twisted and tweaked more to serve me well. It’s why I stick with it and why I even developed Firefox Tweaker for it.

So, if you’re with Chrome because you know nothing else because everyone is raving about stupid Chrome everywhere, give Firefox a try. You might be intrigued by how flexible Firefox is.

Download Firefox

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