Firefox vs. Opera

I am not a devoted user. When I sing the praises of an app that I use, it tends to come from a much more pragmatic side. I certainly have a tendency to stick with my current setup, but show me a better way or a new utility and I’ll definitely investigate. I’m no Amiga freak, Mac lover, Linux devotee, or even Windows advocate. I use what works for me, and will recommend others to do the same. But it really doesn’t matter one way or another.

Firefox is a great browser. There are a few quirks that certainly can get ironed out, but it’s less than a year old and has already made fantastic strides. It is a pleasure to use because of its simple interface, and tabbed browsing alone makes me cringe at the thought of IE. That being said, the primary reason I even bother to tell people to switch is because of security risks, nonstop popups, and lack of standards compliance. If not for those glaring atrocities, I really wouldn’t care what you used.

Where exactly am I going with this? Who knows… A couple weeks ago while searching for some information on how to do something-or-the-other in Firefox, I stumbled upon a comparison with Opera. Curious, I read the article, knowing full well that Opera users tend to be exactly the type of people I described myself as not being. Not too surprising, I found a number of problems in what was written.

Let me just state that I was giving the author the benefit of the doubt. She said she was trying to be objective, and certain statements lead me to believe she was. However, the bias obviously crept in, and that was how I got annoyed. Since this whole blog thing is nothing more than a chance to let us all be opinionated jerks 😉 , let me break it down for you.

First she talks about extensions:

Even though the extensions are not included in the program, FireFox’s file size is still larger than Operas non-Java version

This is 2004. If the difference between 3.4 MB and 4.7 MB is a big deal, your computer isn’t good enough to be on the Internet anyway. Even dialup users can wait the 10 extra minutes, it’s not like they have anything else to do. When discussing sizes of programs, I understand the complaint about IE needing up to 70 megs. Quibbling over 1 meg is just silly.

I never would have went through the time of installing mouse gestures nor had knew what they were had I not used Opera first. Since Opera has them built-in, the first time I used one accidentally, a message popped up letting me know what I did and provided me information. Now I use them all the time. However, I never would have seeked them out, especially if switching from IE.

There’s a downside of that. The only time I ever tried Opera, I found the bloated interface overwhelming, and quickly uninstalled it. Someone created a gestures extension in Firefox. If it is found to be useful, word will get out. Then I can try it when I like, or continue in my default state. Microsoft Word has tons of “features” builtin that I will never ever use. On occasion they have a settting that I didn’t know about that helps me out. I’d rather deal without that one option than the hundreds of others that bloat the interface.

Make sure the “Allow websites to install software” box is checked in Options – otherwise you cannot install Extensions, and you will receive no warning of this

In order to allow websites to install software, you need to check the box “Allow websites to install software.” Hmm, I never would have seen that coming. Ok, ok, a warning might be nice, but it’s a fairly obvious title and right out in the open. Oh yeah, it’s also turned on by default, so you would have to choose to turn it off in order to cause a problem. If you don’t understand what an option does (and this is spelled out for you), don’t be surprised if something doesn’t work when you turn it off.

To mimic the features of Opera that I use frequently, I had to install 8 FireFox extensions.


FireFox has a “Web Developers” extension. Opera has one too. Both do the same thing. The difference, Fire Fox’s is a toolbar, Opera’s is a menu, conveniently located in the menu bar. It’s a matter of preference – I’m just glad that there are web developer tools period. Unfortunately, “disable java” should not be a Web Developers preference but a browser one. This feature, among other similars, is available using Opera’s “quick preferences” (F+12) menu. This contributes to Opera’s speediness.

The web developers extension is both a toolbar and a submenu (of the… drum roll please… Tools menu). It’s been this way for a long time. I think I used it as toolbar for all of a week before switching. But I like having that as an option, if I’m doing web development exclusively it can be a more convenient location. As far as the Java prefence goes, it’s now a part of the browser prefs – I’m not sure when it was added.

After two hours, I have FireFox set up how I would use it as a casual web surfer/web developer. I have 8 extensions, and it is comparable to my Opera setup. Unfortunately, due to physical browser restrictions, it is not as efficient. Also, the only way for FireFox to be usable is with extensions. I understand that it is made this way, as to not bloat the browser. This is understandable, since Opera is considered a bit cumbersome and heavy with its goodies. So, this means that FireFox is only as good as its extensions. I would never have installed most of these extensions, had I not realized their usefulness in Opera first.

This is where you lose me. “[T]he only way for FireFox to be usable is with extensions.” That is an outright lie. I use Firefox all the time without extensions. So do a lot of other people I know. Sure, they can make it even better, but it works perfectly fine without them. Whenever you make claims like this (“the program doesn’t work at all” when you reall mean “the program doesn’t work the way I want it to”), you show an obvious bias that makes the rest of your discussion questionable at best. If you prefer Opera, fine. Just don’t call Firefox unusable, because that’s a bogus claim.

She then goes on to list the various extensions he installed – an interesting list that I might return to at some point. I will also give credit for the limitations she points out on the tabbed browsing. Now that I am used to them, I would definitely like more options.

Next we touch upon the product itself and documentation:

Because FireFox is open source and not created by a real company, the documentation and website is lacking. Due to the Open Source novelty there is a huge fan-base and I am sure that Forums will provide you with any answer you are looking for. However, for those outside of this community, it may be overwhelming and improfessional to ask support help at a forum rather than in the Help menu of the program.

The Open Source novelty!?!?! Wow, way to let your cluelessness shine through. Open source is far from a new concept (it’s been around longer than Opera), and the implication that it is just some silly project without any real support is just laughable. And I’m sure the Mozilla Foundation enjoys the claim that they aren’t a “real company.” I’m sorry, but this is just getting ludicrous.

To find FireFox’s support I actually have to google “FireFox Support”. Why? Because there is a not a link to FireFox’s support page in the “About” menu as most programs do (this goes without saying that Opera follows this rule graciously).

So, with all of his browser experience, she wasn’t able to find the link to “Firefox Support” right on the toolbar in front of him? Or the one in the Bookmarks menu? Those links have been there for a number of versions, so I’m not sure how anyone could miss them. And as far as the rule that Opera so “graciously” follows? It doesn’t exist. After a quick perusal of about a dozen programs today (open source, shareware, and commercial), none of them had links to their support page from the About screen. A couple had links to their home page or copyright information, and one had a link to the author’s e-mail. Just because Opera does something doesn’t make it an industry standard.

After a couple minor points we get to the rousing conclusion:

Besides, with the student discount, Opera costs as much as a tank of gas. You can’t beat that.

Number one, a lot of us don’t get a student discount, so it costs a lot more than a tank of gas. Two, I can beat that. Even if it only cost five dollars I could beat it. Firefox is free. If I want to use it on 1 or 20 computers it remains free. And it, or some variation of it, will always be free. Now that you can’t beat -I know I know, they could pay me, but seriously folks…

I’ve had this rant brewing for a while, and I just had to get it out. I think it started when I saw some idiot claim that WordPress didn’t work period. I never got a chance to respond to his article, bit it really pissed me off. The guy was doing something very specific with XML and couldn’t get the right output. He then ignored the thousands of blogs running semantically correct website all over the world with WP and claimed it was a broken product. And supposedly he was somewhat famous in the web design world. Whatever. My point is that I don’t care if you use the same programs as me. I didn’t cry when SEB chose ExpressionEngine over WP, or when I see a friend installing MusicMatch instead of Winamp. I use Fedora, and Josiah uses Gentoo. Hell, I’ve got two Canons, and Lisa has two Nikons. It doesn’t really matter in the long run. But if you want to discuss why you think yours is better, for the love of all that is holy, please learn how to debate.

One day back at NetTech I had a long debate about the merits of Linux and how it is better than Windows. The following day I defended Windows and pointed out the different way in which it was better than Linux. The kid pointed out my apparent switch of opinion. I told him that it wasn’t a switch, both OSes had their strengths and weaknesses. The key was in learning what those are and how to use them properly. Never sell yourself completely on one product, because you can never be certain where it’s going to go.

9 thoughts on “Firefox vs. Opera”

  1. I use Opera and FireFox always parallel on a daily basis. Overall FireFox feels a little bit snappier. But both beat IE (which I have to use at the same time) easily in speed and usability. I personally find Opera better in overall design and usability – but I like them both. There are some important differences how Opera and FF render certain CSS commands. Sure I also had to install several extensions to get FF similar to Opera, but thats no big deal. Since FF is still work in progress (version 0.93) I am pretty sure it will be one day as good as Opera, but so far the nordic browser is a bit smoother and offers a better integration overall.

  2. That’s pretty much my feeling. That’s cool if someone likes Opera, but Firefox is still developing, and I just get sick of some of the silly “My app is better than yours!” chest-pounding that gets done. I don’t really mind the advocacy (I do that to some extent), just don’t act like you’re the one with all of the answers.

  3. Well ranted. Program loyalty is fine, but shouldn’t extend to trashing the competition. It’s like booing the other team at a game. Very unsportman-like. Now if you want to talk about their weak defense and worst offense, that’s another thing as long as you don’t generalize the entire team as being a bunch of daisy-pushers or something.

  4. Well, unless it’s the Dallas Cowboys 😉 I find it so odd that Opera supporters really seem to be coming out of the woodwork and saying “I guess it’s ok if you use Firefox. At least it’s not IE. But wouldn’t you rather BUY a slightly better browser?” Right up there with all of the Mac users who solve every problem with, “Why don’t you just get a new Mac for $3000 to replace your $600 PC at home? That should fix everything.”

  5. Valid points all around, I love the constructive criticism. Calling Firefox “unusable” without extensions is a blatant lie and I apologize.

  6. No problem. I certainly didn’t mean to be so aggressive, I just happened upon your site after a string of reviews rather biasedly trashing good software. So I was already wound up. And actually, if it weren’t for that one line (calling it unusable) I probably would have made this a generic rant and not even mentioned your write-up.

    No reason to apologize to me anyway, I’m just your typical ranting geek on the interwebthingie. At the very least, you did point out some good resources and extensions I plan on trying out.

    And by the by, I’m pretty sure that’s not my mom commenting on the site. Especially because her e-mail isn’t

  7. Maybe I didn’t mean “usable” but “comparable.” Because out-of-the-box, Opera has more features than FF (for better or worse). FF can still be used without extensions of course, but may not be as efficient as one would like.

    In forum debates over this issue, pro-FFers tend to say “extensions! extensions!”. So that was on my mind at the time.

    However, I do realize that those are only the goodies because even without extensions, FF still has a pop-up blocker, download manager, wonderful search field, etc etc.

  8. I use both, Firefox is a quick little thing. And it’s true that Opera has a whole bunch more features than Firefox out of the box, making it seem bloated… but it’s tough for me to justify this when I consider that Opera loaded with features is still smaller than Firefox with nothing. (and takes up less memory… even after browsing for hours.)

    I’d say Firefox is great if you’ve got that new user friend or family member that you want to get away from IE. (possibly because of all that ad-ware and spyware that can get installed by mistake.). Opera is better for the more advanced user.. more streamlined features for productivity out of the box. (i.e. easier one letter keyboard shortcuts, mouse gestures w/o extensions, and the zoom function… which is amazing when you’ve got 4 windows tiled at once.)

    I’ve also had a problem with Firefox crashing after installing a bunch of extensions which apparently conflicted with each other. I guess that’s the problem with having different people write all these extensions, sometimes with sloppy coding. But a quick extension removal fixed the problem.

    Again, depends on what you’re looking for. I still keep Firefox installed as a backup and utilize it from time to time.


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