Firefox: Only for the Geeks?

By Deane Barker on September 6, 2004

Why I don’t recommend Firefox: Adam doesn’t think that Firefox is ready to be unleashed on all users just yet. He makes some good points.

Firefox right now is very good for an experienced net user, but is not at all ready for the average person. If you plan on targeting the general public, you need to understand the general public.

Most Web users don’t know what a browser is. That blue E they click on the desktop isn’t a browser, it’s “The Internet.” Or maybe it’s “Yahoo” if that’s what their home page is set to.

Now my story —

I installed Firefox on my parents’ computer because IE bugs were making me nervous. My folks are 61 and 72. I just removed the IE link from the desktop, configured the Firefox shortcut to look use blue “E” icon, and named it “Internet.” I never even told them.

They haven’t yet noticed, and I don’t expect them to. The only problem we’ve had is that Firefox doesn’t do Flash natively, and I had to go get a plugin for that. Otherwise, it’s been smooth as anything. (And believe me, if Mom were to have a problem, she’d tell me — I’m on speed-dial…)

My home machine uses Firefox exclusively. I just told me wife to use the new icon with the bird instead of one with the blue “E”. She’s never had Problem One.

Annie (my wife) is a bright girl, but I don’t think she knows what a “browser” is either. She just knows about “The Internet,” and Firefox works as good as IE does. She’s a “power browser” too: eBay, online banking, shopping, etc. She doesn’t just go to Yahoo once a week — she’s on this thing more than me.

So, I don’t agree with Adam, but it’s a point worthy of debate. Does anyone else have some “Firefox for the non-geek” stories they can share?



  1. I agree with you. I installed Firefox on an 85 year old’s computer. He is resistant to change so I did the same “change the icon” trick.

    He has noticed, but has adapted. He loves the random name extension :o)

  2. I agree that Mozilla is somewhat of a browser for geeks, but it’s interface is not so far beyond users that they’re incapable of changing. I agree that the general public is ignorant of the fine details of the Internet, like exactly what a “browser” is. However, progress cannot be delayed because people are ignorant or resistant to change. If that was the case, we’d still be back where we were 40 some odd years ago.

    It’s difficult for the Mozilla project to compete, since many ISPs have now taken it upon themselves to provide specialized services like pop-up blocking, spam filtration, etc. It mainly needs a way to reach users and inform them that there is an alternative to IE. It needs to learn what users want and show them that Mozilla has it. Such attempts will likely involve having to inform the public of information about the Internet that most Mozilla users consider to be general knowledge, but if that’s what it takes, I say, so be it.

  3. Sure, YOU have installed it for them. And fixed the incomplete “default browser” problems by changing the default Windows handler for the URL protocol. And installed the extensions they need to give them a more normal browsing experience. And backed up their profile so you could upgrade from 0.8 to 0.9 without losing their bookmarks. And …..

    Once the browser’s there, everything’s fine. And they know who to call if they can’t figure something out. But as long the required upgrade steps include /deleting/ the previous version, backing up your profile and re-creating it at the end, I can’t recommend to people that I don’t know that they install the browser. I can’t rely on them to have enough technical expertise to prgram a VCR, nevermind deal with an application like that.

    And if I wanted to recommend the product, where do I send them to find out more about it? To the Firefox site that’s full of geek speak?

  4. Not specifically Firefox… When I first got my parents (now 74) hooked up to the internet several years ago, I’d tell them to go to some domain. I was always puzzled why they never really responded with comments about whatever site. Turns out they were typing the domain in Yahoo search field. Of course, back then, you were just as likely to get porn listings as the actual domain so they were reluctant to click on anything. That problem is solved but they still don’t have a complete grasp on the differentiation between IE/Outlook Express/and the internet in general.

  5. I too have my wife using Firefox on our PC until I game get another Mac in our house and get her moved over to that. I just feel safer knowing that IE is not running on my network.

    The main issue I have with Firefox is that certain sites my wife visits contain browser checking code that enforces the use of IE or off all things, Netscape. I find it frustrating that a developer would insist that you use one specific browser over another when no visible differences exist. The website of our previous mortgage holder (Suntrust) did this very thing and made it impossible to me to PAY them using Safari. When we were in the process of refinancing earlier this year besides a low interest rate, the company we went with had to provide a decent web experience.

    I run into these situations enough that switching my parents to Firefox right now is not an option. I get enough support calls as it is.

  6. My two biggest pet peeves with FF right now are:

    1. I use Alt+F (File), O (Open) to navigate to new sites in IE, and I can’t find anything similar in FF. I always have to mouse up to the address bar and that sucks when you’re a keyboard person. I’ve accidentally stumbled upon some kind of Alt+Home or Ctrl+ something that sort of gets me what I want, but half the time I end up in the little Google search thingy instead.

    2. If you visit a page full of links, none of them work until the entire page has loaded. That really ticks me off.

    FWIW, I put my folks on FF a few weeks ago, too. They haven’t had any problems at all.

  7. “It didn’t take me long to realise the fundamental flaws in Firefox”

    And IE doesn’t have errors? Let’s remember that the product we’re “replacing” was far from perfect. And, for the record, I have never once run into any of the errors you mention on your site. Not once.

    (And there’s a plugin for Google PageRank.)

  8. Deane: “And IE doesn’t have errors?”

    Yes, of course IE has errors. But MS have made a massive improvement with SP2, and have been deploying well-tested security updates throughout the year. People like to look backwards when criticising IE, but luckily MS is starting to look forward in a big way.

    With Firefox, firstly, the disparate development model means that some of the “band-aid” style fixes sometimes introduce even more bugs. Secondly, one must re-download the browser and re-install every time it’s updated. Unlike IE SP2(which has a fault-tolerant addon manager), many of the 3rd-party extensions and themes for firefox lead to major instability:

    IMO the current Mozilla browser model just isn’t ready for the consumer market and they have a long way to go before they can make a full release.

    I’m not speculating here, I’m just explaining it as it looks from my point of view. I haven’t been endoctrinated into “Mozilla Evangelism” and I am in no way affiliated with MS.

  9. “I use Alt+F (File), O (Open) to navigate to new sites in IE, and I can’t find anything similar in FF.”

    Alt+D takes you immediately to the address bar, and selects the whole entry so you can just type a new address to replace it. IE uses the same shortcut.

    “If you visit a page full of links, none of them work until the entire page has loaded.”

    I can’t seem to repeat this one, but that was mostly due to the fact that I couldn’t find a page that partially loaded really slowly. In a lot of places, the graphics come in late, but that doesn’t seem to affect things.

  10. For me the biggest drawback to using any alternative browser is that some web applications are still designed using active-x controls that only IE will recognize. If the person you’re recommending firefox to needs one of those, then they’re going to be dissappointed.

    However, in my opinion, firefox is pretty easy to use even if you don’t use plugins and plugins are pretty easy to install if you get a little more adventurous. Opera is my browser of choice, and only one i think you can recommend to web/computer geeks. But for non-geeks, firefox seems pretty safe, especially if you’re willing to do the setup for them.

    But i do have to conceed, that when it comes to staying up to date with patches, it’s hard to beat microsofts auto-update process for the completely illiterate. It works, and it works by itself. Hard to get simpler than that.

  11. “And I thought F6 was easy.” Nah, you have to lift your hand to reach F6, unless you’re on a smaller laptop keyboard. If you’re a touch typist, with your hands on the home row, Alt is near your thumb and D is under your bird-flippin’ finger. =)

    The list of shortcuts in the Firefox help lists all sorts of shortcuts I never knew existed. F6, Alt+D, and Ctrl+L apparently all select the location bar.

  12. I’m usually the king of keyboard shortcuts, guess I was too lazy to RTFFM (Read The FireFox Manual).

    (Ctrl+L is what I’ll be using.)

    Thanks, dz

  13. Completely unrelated, but I just noticed that comments post about a thousand times faster than they did previously.


  14. “comments post about a thousand times faster than they did previously.”

    MT 3. 1 forks a process to do the entry rebuild. With 2.66 you sat there waiting for the individual page and every index page to rebuild after you posted your comment. Now you’re just sent back to the page and the rebuild continues on its own. That’s why your comment doesn’t show up right away.

    Very cool, but it can lead to problems.

  15. JAT wrote >…the biggest drawback to using any alternative browser is that some web applications are still designed using active-x controls …

    Having a browser that will NOT load Active-X is a bonus that is built-in to the Mozilla family, and BTW, just how good is IE at running your Active-X on Linux, Macs, UNIX… ?

    But if FF has one ‘killer app’ of a feature set then it is the extensions

    AdBlock alone is worth the switch, so too is the Developer bar; though obviously it has a smaller intended audience, and FireSomething can be so cute that it must get another mention ;)

    There is some security risk with Extensions and some documented proof of concept spoofs for the Themes – the solution is simple: get your Extensions from and forget the Themes, it’s only eye candy after all. You can do a Google for ‘evil skins’ if you wan’t to read on about Theme/Skins and security risks

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