Charles Moore's Mailbag

Frustrated with Opera and Firefox, Classic Form Factors, 18-bit Color, and More

Charles Moore - 2008.04.09 - Tip Jar

Frustrated with Opera and Firefox

From Arvid:

Dear Charles:

I enjoyed your article, as I do all of the Low End Mac features. I was particularly interested in your take on some of these browser options, as I am also "stuck with a bog-slow Internet dialup connection," at least a lot of the time.

By a strange coincidence I just downloaded Opera 9.27 yesterday to try it out. I had previously tried Opera (7, I think), didn't like it, and tossed it, but I saw the improvements and thought it looked worth checking out again. In particular, the built-in torrent client looked like a good thing. I download a lot of books from Google Books, and the only way to do that is to use a Firefox extension called DownThemAll that somehow manages to ignore the kill signals that Google sends out, aborting the download early. It was my fondest hope that Opera would do this, and I could get rid of Firefox forever! (To answer the obvious question: No, a high-speed connection is no help, although it does make it less obvious that a download has aborted, and you have to actually look at the size of the file - maybe 4 MB when it should be 20, say.)

Unfortunately, my experience was diametrically opposed to yours. First off, it was excruciatingly, horripilatingly slow. (My Mac doesn't think "horripilatingly" is a word, but it's wrong!) Subjectively, it seemed even slower than Firefox, but surely that's impossible, right? The biggest disappointment was downloading. It downloaded at about two-thirds the bitrate Safari or Firefox would have at a given connection speed, and it seemed like it crapped out even earlier than they would, but maybe Google has just gotten worse.

I also tried the other use for which DownThemAll is nearly indispensable: downloading books from the Internet Archive in the infinitely superior DjVu format instead of PDF. Ordinarily, IA forces you to go through the incredibly lame FTP process to do this, but DownThemAll somehow manages to circumvent that and treat it as an ordinary download, albeit without knowing the size of the file or being able to predict a remaining time. Unfortunately, Opera appears to be completely incompatible with the Internet Archive: When you hit "next" to get off the first page of the search results, it beachballs and has to be force-quit!

I would really love to find a browser that was even a quarter as fast as Safari and could deal with these problems, so I would be willing to use it for a whole session instead of just switching to Firefox for this one thing. Firefox is so incredibly slow, obtuse, clunky, and graphically challenged that it's unusable for anything else, and I would dearly love to drag it to the Trash. Not today, though!

Hi Arvid,

Glad you enjoyed the article, and sorry Opera didn't work out for you, although I'm surprised by what you encountered.

Opera has been my #1 browser since version 8 was introduced a couple or three years back (I agree with you that Opera 7 and previous were horrible), and it's been up and running for me continuously through sundry version updates to the current 9.27.

Lately, I also usually have Safari (currently 3.1) and Firefox (version 3 beta 5) running as well, and I can't say as I notice any dramatic speed difference among those three, which are collectively the fastest browsers I've ever used.

Now my dialup connection is really slow, connecting at 26,400 bps on good days, but within that context I've found Opera to be very satisfactory and amazingly stable, even with 15-20 page tabs loading simultaneously. I might get a crash or lockup once a month or so, which is as good as or better performance than I've experienced with any other browser.

I'm also puzzled that you find Firefox slow. I had kept an eye on it but not used it much over the years until the version 3 betas came out, but I really like it, and on my setup (1.33 GHz PowerBook G4, 1.5 GB RAM, OS X 10.5.2 ) it's definitely competitive with Opera and Safari in the speedstakes,

Have you tried the Firefox 3 beta?


Colour Claims for iMac or the MacBooks

From Alan Williams:


These colour lawsuits are really groundless. Just lawyers looking to 'Make Rain'.

There are three different coloured diodes in a LCD screen. They are red, green, and blue (RGB). Each diode can only make one colour. It can make a brighter colour with more power or a softer, weaker colour with less power to the diode. Each pixel has one of each of the three coloured diodes. Regulating the percentage of power, from 0 to 100%, that is given to each of these 3 diodes determines the perceived pixel colour. Screens can also use the colour of the 4 most adjacent pixels to determine their perceived colour. This gives high pixel density screens millions of perceived colours.

The colour seen is a mater of perception, not the actual colours that are used inside the screen. The manipulation of the intensity of the 3 colours of the diodes inside the pixel gives the perception of a multitude of uniquely different colours for the pixel. Even though only 3 colours of diodes are used, the fact that many different colours are seen is not in dispute. It is legal trickery played upon our eyes. So how can even further trickery played upon our eyes by rapidly flashing different colours in the 4 adjacent pixels in low pixel density screens to give every pixel even more perceived colours be illegal?

If your eyes are tricked into seeing millions of colours from only 3 different colours of diodes, it does not matter what the pixel density of the screen happens to be. It doesn't matter what form the electronic trickery takes. The eye's perception is all that counts. Millions of colours were promised, and millions of colours are seen. Apple did not lie about pixel density or angle of view. They also did not lie about millions of colours.

We see movies at 30 frames per second. Real life happens at countless frames per second. Do the movie studios get sued? No. Perception is reality.


Hi Al,

Oh, I agree. Being a Canuck, the litigiousness of US culture, especially US corporate culture, bemuses and sometimes horrifies me, although it's getting worse here in Canada as well. Do you suppose it might have something to do with greater numbers of law school graduates?

Oft-cited statistics say that Japan has one attorney for every 10,000 residents, compared to the US ratio of one attorney for every 390 residents, and that two-thirds of the planet's lawyers are practising in the United States. It is also claimed that for every 100 attorneys trained in Japan, there are 1,000 engineers, while in the United States, that ratio is reversed, although critics point out that the definition of "engineer" is quite different in Japan. Still....

Then there are the absolute bizarro-world cases like the judge in DC who sued his dry-cleaners for $50-odd million for losing his trousers (happily, the case got thrown out, but not before ruining the lives of the victims of this attempted legal chicanery), or the incident reported by Forbes magazine in which a man attempted to kill himself by jumping in front of a subway car in New York, was unsuccessful, and then won a $650,000 judgment from New York City because the train hit him.

So, yes, the Apple iMac display suit is just another game in the litigation lottery.


Classic Form Factors

From Stephen M Lubliner:

The design magic has cooled. Each of Apple's product lines, with the exception of the iPhone, iPod touch, and MacBook Air, has maintained its design form factor for a few years now. Most of Apple's computer lines need a serious design overhaul, as they're all getting long in the tooth.

Interestingly, while I'm not a particular fan of the MacBook Air from the standpoint of its compromised functionality, I see it as the first really imaginative Apple computer product in some time, and proof that the Think Different spark is still there.

Keeping a proven form factor is not necessarily a bad thing. I'd offer the original Volkswagen Bug as evidence of that. By the mid 60s the Bug was a highly refined, high quality, highly reliable automobile. The key is to know when to change since, by the early 70s the Bug was outclassed by its newer design competition. Even now, the Bug shape is a recognizable and marketable icon as evidenced by the current VW "New Beetle" design.

Original compact MacAmong us Mac folks, the compact Mac design is an marketable and memorable icon. Nobody may want a nine inch screen any longer, but use of the compact Mac graphic still evokes a smile from many Mac users.

I'd disagree that the current Mac computer lines are in serious need of overhaul. They are attractive and functional compared to many similar function PCs. I'd rather see Apple improve reliability, durability, and accessibility in updated models then redesign them for the sake of style.

Steve Lubliner

Hi Steve,

I partly agree, but it depends on what you're marketing. All of the Apple form factors are very good, which is why they've gotten away with hanging on to them for so long, but I doubt that any of them represents ultimate perfection, and except for the MacBook Air, the mini, and the aluminum iMac, they're not very imaginative.

From a functionality perspective, the G3 Series PowerBooks were arguably the high water mark.

As for the VW Beetle, I knew it intimately. I owned one, a black 62 1,200cc model, and drove many others. I'm inclined to agree with whoever observed that the classic Beetle was a dreadfully-flawed design superbly executed, while its also iconic contemporary, the original Austin/Morris/BMC Mini, was a superb and brilliant design dismally executed. I never owned a Mini, but my sister had one of the last ones imported to Canada, and I drove many of them owned by friends, and even helped build a Mini Cooper (the 997 cc version rather than the 1,275 cc Cooper S) to race car status, and agree with that unreservedly. Ferdinand Porsche was an overrated automotive designer, while Alex Issigonis was an under-appreciated one. It's interesting that both products live on in retro replicar iterations (both much better products than the inspirational originals).

I would love it if Apple were to build a retro-Pismo with a Core 2 Duo processor and modern connectivity features.

It's ironic that the mid-late 70s Super Beetle, with its much superior MacPherson Strut front suspension and full four-link independent rear suspension (similar setup that's been used by the Porsche 911 for decades now), which helped civilize the traditional Beetle's fixed-camber front and swing-axle rear suspension's often evil handling was arguably the best classic Beetle ever, although a good buddy of mine still manages to roll his girlfriend's Super Beetle over. Anyway, I think Jonathan Ive is more in the Issigonis than the Porsche design tradition.

I also agree with you about the Mac Classic compact all-in-ones. I still have my Mac Plus, and it does bring a smile when I look at it. A truly iconic and beautiful form factor, but as you say, the screen size is not a practical proposition for the Internet age (except that it's still an awful lot bigger than an iPhone or iPod display, and that hasn't hurt their popularity).


Baseball and Macs

From Pete Pemberton:


There may not be any magic in business, but there is magic in advertising, sometimes. :-) Great article!




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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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