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Apple vs. Mozilla

by Rob Friesel

A change may be due on the web and email apps front… I may be pushing some of the limits of what Apple’s Mail and Safari apps can really offer me but… But I cling to them pretty desperately for some reason. Nostalgia? Because they came as part of the package? Can’t pin it down – – there’s also the pain in the ass of switching applications like this. So after being more/less forced into using Firefox and Thunderbird “exclusively” recently, I thought to myself it might be worth it to give each a shot for a solid week and see how it panned out. After Day 1, I came up with a version of the following scorecard to try and weigh this out for the long term…:

  [tag]Firefox[/tag] [tag]Safari[/tag]
Alternate Styles You can turn CSS on and off. You can switch to alternate embedded stylesheets. It rules. +1 Alternate what? -1
Bookmark management Not a big fan of the bookmark management in Firefox. I don’t like the separate window – – feels too much like they want bookmark management to be a separate application, a process wholly separate from the rest of your browsing. And it seems tricky to sync bookmark collections between computers. Sure, it stores it as a flat XHTML but doesn’t play nice when you edit it manually. -1 I like how Safari handles bookmarks. It’s basically as simple as that. I like the UI. I like that you can sync the bookmarks plist between computers. +1
Built-in RSS aggregator Also has RSS built in – – like with Safari though, the implementation seems a little weird. Live Bookmarks? Their behaviors are more predictable than Safari’s but still aren’t something to write home about. So once again: “Who cares when you have NNW?” 0 Introduced with “Safari RSS” – – so it’s there, even if the implementation is kind of weird. Adding a bookmark to a site doesn’t automatically also add it’s RSS feed to the RSS collection. (What’s that all about?) Either way, who cares when you have NetNewsWire? 0
Form handling Can and will “tab through” form fields. Doesn’t always let me do the full keyboard control the way I’m used to from Windows machines? (Maybe that’s my problem?) Has a little trouble with checkboxes but in general does OK. 0 Safari just doesn’t seem to want to play nice when I try to “tab through” form fields (not the way “it should” anyway – – see Dornfest’s “Tab to select…” for more on this…). -1
“Open in Tabs…” 2-clicks -1 1-click +1
OS X Keychain support Doesn’t have it: no apparent integration w/ Keychain; but DOES have a pretty good password management tool built in. 0 Has it: integrates w/ OS X Keychain. +1
Page text searching Text searching on a page is great. Pretty robust and has a great UI. No out-of-the-box RegEx, though. +1 Eh, it’s OK. At least I can “Cmd+G” to the next one. 0
Rich bookmarking Bookmarking in Firefox is rich. You can mark up your bookmarks pretty much any way you want. It remembers when it was added, last modified, last visited… Now if there was just a better way of searching through them. +1 Bookmarking isn’t “rich” – – there’s no “last visited”, no “description”, nothing but the title and the URL (unless you count the ICO). You’d think that with Spotlight this would have been in Safari RSS “for sure” but apparently they spent more time converting the Bookmark plist files to binary. -1
RTF/WYSIWYG editors GASP!? Things “just work” like you expect them to. +1 Doesn’t play nice; most RTF/WYSIWYG inline apps/widgets don’t work. -1
Searching in “textarea” elements Doesn’t search in textarea elements. 0 Doesn’t search in textarea elements. (I guess I was reaching on this one…) 0
Stability Flaky at worst. For the most part it’s solid and stable. But click-dragging has a crippling bug associated with the Carbon framework that underlies its development platform. Ouch. -1 Flaky at worst. I haven’t gotten any epic “SPOD” sessions like may folks ’round the web have reported but occasionally if I’ve got 22 tabs open and I go for one more and #23 is top-heavy with Flash, Safari decides to peace-out. But that combined with its inconsistency re: standards complaince makes this a bit of a cringer (though hardly a show-stopper). 0
Standards compliance Maybe it didn’t pass the Acid 2 test but as far as I can tell it’s compliant in every way that counts. Or at least it renders web pages “as expected”. Or is at least it’s designed to be. +1 Allegedly the first browser to pass the test and earn the title of “most standards compliant” browser. Great! Then why does it have so much trouble with so many web pages in “real world” scenarios? 0
Standard font settings Standard/default font settings has an “Advanced” area where we find “Proportional”, “Serif”, “Sans-serif”, “Monospace”! +1 Just “Standard font” and “Fixed-width font”? -1
Tabbed browsing “Are you sure you want to close 50 tabs?” +1 “Oops, I just killed all my tabs!” -1
ZeroConf networking Allo? -1 Bonjour! +1
TOTAL: 3 -2
  [tag]Thunderbird[/tag] [tag]Mail[/tag]
Account management Thunderbird has a pretty good (and thorough!) UI for managing individual accounts. What I don’t like though is how you can’t really turn the accounts on and off. (I guess that’s what Identities are for…?) +1 No support for identities but it’s easy to turn accounts on and off. That said, signatures are managed separately from the accounts. The UI for managing accounts is simple and clear and has everything that you need, even if these elements are sometimes buried under “Advanced…” buttons. +1
Address Book integration Does not integrate w/ OS X’s native Address Book. It has it’s own (including support for “collected addresses”) – – but who cares? If you use Quicksilver for creating new email messages, you know right away why this is a major pain in the arse. -1 Seeing as how Apple put all this together as one tidy package, it’s no wonder that Mail integrates with OS X’s Address Book. +1
Aggregate inbox I have to go from one inbox to the next with IMAP accounts. Is it so hard to view all my messages aggregated in one inbox? -1 Has it right. I can view all messages at a time in one inbox. +1
Attachments Apparently, Thunderbird’s default behavior is to do text attachments inline. That said, it appears to “really” do text attachments “both ways” – – and I haven’t seen issues with any other attachment types. 0 Appears to try to do images inline; other attachments get attached OK but appear inline as icons from what I can tell. The “neat” factor comes in to play on 10.4/Tiger with how you can use to automatically import photos into iPhoto. Cool! (even if I’ve only used it a couple of times) +1
Drag/drop support Dragging messages is just a big blank square w/ grey borders’ if I grab 15 messages it’s just a big empty square that I’m moving to the trash. Not very elegant but not a show stopper. Hovering over “folded up” folders that don’t unfurl so I can drop my messages in a sub-folder, however is a pretty big deal of a bug. (Especially since it’s specific to OS X! Another Carbon bug?) -1 Clean icons with badges; when I drag 15 messages to the Trash it’s an icon of envelopes with a little “15” on it. That and when I hover over “folded up” folders, they unfurl so I can get to their subfolders for my target drops. +2
HTML formatting Thunderbird has easy(-ish) inline HTML editing for most things. Lists, text formatting, tables – – the important stuff is there. You’re basically out of luck when it comes to editing the source though. +1 Inline HTML editing in Mail is tricky/difficult. The text formatting basics (e.g., bold, italics) are there but you start to lose ground quick if you need to do anything beyond that. -1
Identities Thunderbird does support multiple identities. This is a nice bonus for many. Still playing around with it, not sure how much I’ll really ultimately desire/need it. But it’s worth something. +1 Doesn’t support multiple identities. (But who cares?) 0
IMAP support IMAP support seems pretty darn stable but is it enough? (E.g., I occasionally get a “pinweeling” cursor when I received new messages, forcing me to re-start Thunderbird.) This was a big issue for me when I first tried Thunderbird about a year ago – – it crashed or else locked up on certain accounts all the time. This seems to be mostly resolved but still isn’t perfect. At least it tells me that it’s on “NNN of XXX” number of messages while syncing up. 0 “IMAP support in is flaky.” This is arguable. Up until recently I would have said that it had excellent support for IMAP accounts. However, as the accounts that I use have grown, I’ve started to see some of the issues reported by other folks re: Mail flaking out when syncing large mailboxes. -1
Message threading Threading appears to be pretty robust. That and there’s a good UI layered on top of the different ways you can group messages. +1 Claims to have threading but doesn’t. At least, its threading isn’t very good; it just sort of groups messages together. -1
Priorities and message color-coding Out-of-the-box support for priorities is great. Additionally, you can easily color-code messages for things like “Important” and “To Do” and “Later” with a single keystroke. Nice. +1 With Mail, sure you can color messages. But it isn’t all that easy (not as easy as color-coding messages in the Finder, at least) did I miss something or is there no native support for priorities? -1
Reply headers It takes an extension but you can customize the inline reply headers (and styles!) +1 Can’t customize; I’m stuck with “So-and-so wrote on…:” Ugh. -1
RSS support Has RSS but who cares when you have NetNewsWire? Just a nice treat thrown in. +1 No RSS aggregator built in. But who cares when you have NetNewsWire? 0
Saved searches, Smart Folders You can create folders that are essentially “Saved Searches”. A neat feature and definitely competes with Mail’s “Smart Folders” system but I have my doubts about its indexing. (E.g., out-of-the-box doesn’t seem to have a search option that recognizes flagged messages. What’s up with that?) 0 Smart Folders are cool. And the indexing is handled by Spotlight. I don’t use them very much but they’re still cool. +1
Signatures Superior signature support. Reference any HTML or plaintext external file and it sucks it all right in. Images? No problem! Styled divs? No problem! +1 Pain in the butt. Can’t reference external files and what’s worse, you can’t edit the HTML source of the sig. So those fancy inline CSS styles you wanted to use are pretty much out. (You can copy/paste them in but chances are you’ll lose half of what you wanted.) -1
UI Flexibility in the UI is a plus here – – extensions and themes! Familiar out-of-the-box layout that can be updated and changed with some built-in settings. Then again (see above) there’s always an extension to make things fit your worldview. +1 Though Mail’s is probably the most-hated-upon in the Mac world, I think it looks pretty good. Clean, even. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s pretty rigid in it’s layout. Essentially the same as Thunderbird’s default? And yet not. 0
TOTAL: 6 0

Yeah… Let’s see where it goes…

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night; weekend homebrewer. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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