Mac Lab Report

Mozilla Gets Browsing Just Right

- 2002.05.09

When's the last time you installed a program that made you smile because it was just right?

When a program claims it will read your preferences from the previous version without touching your previous version - and does just what it says?

When everything you want to see improved, improves?

That just happened to me, and I have to tell you, it's sweet. The latest build of Mozilla downloaded and installed without a hitch on my school 500 MHz CD-RW iMac. It read my Netscape preferences and didn't disturb the original files.

Everything that was wrong with all my other browsers has been magically improved. This browser, ladies and gents, is what Netscape 6 thinks it is in its heart of hearts. Only difference is, the open-source approach for Mozilla actually makes it work.

The thing is fast. Four seconds to open CNN without utilizing a cached version in our server. Three seconds to open Apple's page. Low End Mac opens so fast it might as well be instantaneous. This thing's so fast you could practically animate with it by pointing to successive Web pages.

The tabs work beautifully. The Composer actually makes sense, and while it is clearly designed for beginners, advanced functions wait patiently behind Advanced Features buttons. The choices for what is basic and what is advanced make sense, always a failing for IE or other Microsoft products.

Pages that used to display in microscopic fonts are now readable. I tested several things, including my online class using WebCT courseware at the University of Arizona. I was able to read the formerly tiny warnings about registration information. I could read and post messages (which Netscape won't let me do consistently), and it loaded easily twice as fast as it does at home.

This thing is iCab and Opera fast, maybe faster. I'll leave the benchmarking to those with more experience in such matters, but it's a definite improvement over IE, Netscape 4.x, and Netscape 6.x.

The thing's not finished - there were some help files missing, for example - and some of the features are bug-reporting tools that your average schmuck (like me) has no use for and/or isn't familiar with, but I can tell you after weeks of futzing around with iCab and Opera and God-help-me IE, I feel like the prodigal son has returned.

What help files are there are plainly written and they make sense. Listen to this:

Alternate Text: Enter text that will display in place of the original image; for example, a caption or a brief description of the image. It's a good practice to specify alternate text for readers who use text-only web browsers or who have image loading turned off.

What a great little feature. I know everyone knows how to do this, but I don't recall seeing it in Claris Home Page.

I'm sure there will be issues others will find, but listen, Java-based sites worked, WebCT let me log in to my class without giving me the giant circular runaround, Low End Mac loads fast and looks good, my favorite news sites are opening faster and easily readable - have I forgotten anything?

Oh yeah, this is the best cheap (free) page editor since Claris Home Page.. If they put in a consolidation function, you might be able to use this instead of Home Page.

What more could an average schmuck want?

Wowsa. Give it a look. Stay tuned to LEM to see what everyone else has to say.

(half-hour passes)

Okay, now that I've calmed down a bit, I did find a couple of things that aren't perfect. First, the program asks me each time I start it if I want to import my Netscape 4 settings; after the first time it should not ask that again. Also, I found a Java-based page that didn't load, although it was one that's relatively obscure, and I don't know how well written it is. But that's certainly no worse than any other browser.

I still like it, and I'm going to test it for a few days. Enjoy.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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