I am a loyal Firefox user. I love the tabs, the extensions, the customization. It’s fast and free and, because it’s an open-source project organized by a nonprofit in Silicon Valley, it gives me a warm, fuzzy, volunteering-at-the-soup-kitchen kind of feeling. I love watching its market share grow, from 15 percent in 2007 to 23 percent today. Each uptick in the chart is like a poke in the red, gleaming, robotic eye of our technological overlord, Microsoft, and its crusty workhorse, Internet Explorer.
But recently I was issued a challenge by this blog: forsake Firefox for a week and entrust my digital life to Internet Explorer 8. I expected a cataclysm of Katrina-like proportions. Frozen screens. Garbled Web pages. Cascading popup boxes. Molasses-like speed. With great trepidation I accepted, and tremblingly clicked online.
But you know what? It was ... fine.
In fact, the experience was mildly enjoyable, if only for the novelty. I really liked the colored tabs, which IE8 automatically sorts into groups of like pages, so you can easily discern which is where. The Quick Tabs button, which shows thumbnails for all your open sites on a single page, was also useful. And though Internet Explorer felt slower than Firefox, the gap wasn’t too great—a slot canyon instead of a gulf.
Sure, there was plenty to nitpick about. Past versions of IE were about as secure as the U.S.-Mexico border, and though IE8 is much better, that dubious legacy has left it paranoid. The browser kept reminding me of the danger of “send[ing] information to the Internet.” Did I want to continue? Um, yes. Equally annoying was IE's inability to save my tabs and reopen them each time I started the browser.
And, of course, Explorer lacks Firefox’s giant, free marketplace for plug-ins, which lets power users supercharge their Web experience. But the truth is, I can live without my Firefox apps. Specialized tools to take screenshots (Aviary) or switch to proxy servers (FoxyProxy) or store passwords (LastPass) are nice, but not essential. There’s always a workaround.
The experience left me simultaneously discouraged and uplifted. On the one hand, Firefox’s rise in market share over the last few years was driven by the disaster that was IE6. Now that Microsoft has narrowed the gap, plenty of users will come to the same conclusion I just did: IE8 is just fine for 98 percent of what I do. Why switch?
On the other hand, the people who built Firefox (and Chrome, a similar open-source project out of Google) are smart. They know they’ll never fully overthrow the tech world’s Sauron, nor destroy its nefarious tool, the One Browser to Rule Them All. They'll convince who they can convince, and meanwhile prod Microsoft to do a little bit better. IE8's adequacy proves that they’re succeeding.