Browser Tests — Mozilla Phoenix (Predecessor of Firefox)

Well, I’ve tried the Phoenix browser for a few days now. Phoenix is a stripped-down browser built on top of the Mozilla code base (download it from here). It is extraordinarily fast. But in nearly every other respect, Mozilla is much more usable. The creators of Phoenix have implemented a philosophy that end users don’t need all the features that Mozilla provides so they’ve made choices about how things should work. The problem is that, for me, they’ve made the wrong choices. One of the best features of Mozilla is the tabbed browsing. In the original implementation, typing a URL into the Location box automatically opened the URL in a new tab, but then the Mozilla team changed that so that you had to hit Ctrl-Enter to open in a new tab. The Phoenix team have retained the original behavior, and I really hate it. I prefer to re-use tabs. For example, when I read Salon, I open the main page, then open new tabs for all the articles I want to read. Then I go back to the Salon main page and want to go to Slate and do the same with that. With Phoenix, I need to close the original Salon tab and move to the new Slate tab. This is annoying.

Two other areas really annoy me, the History window and passwords. I absolutely despise the practice that IE implemented of opening the history in a pane on the left of your browser window. If I browsed full-screen, this would make a certain amount of sense. If browsers did not hit the remote server again when they reformatted the page you are viewing, this would make a certain amount of sense (Mozilla is good in that it does not hit the server again, just uses the cached version). But I almost never browse full-screen. I prefer a browser window that is as tall as the whole vertical space above the TaskBar and as wide as about 2/3s of the screen. This gives a good line length on most pages while leaving room for other windows to be visible behind it. But when you hit Ctrl-H in IE or Phoenix, about 1/5th of your window gets taken up with the history pane, and that means that the document window is now too narrow, while the history window is too narrow to be useful. In Mozilla, you can do something that opens the History window in its own window, rather than in a “sidebar,” as the Mozilla team calls these panes. But in Phoenix that capability has not been implemented. Also, in Phoenix, they do not allow you to display the history in ungrouped layout, like the old Netscape 4.x history list (which I vastly prefer). This makes using the history list in Phoenix very unpleasant. I have checked to see if it is possible to change prefs.js or one of the preference files to fix this, but have had no luck with the history window (I was able to change the cache location with that method).

The other thing that drives me crazy is that you can’t tell Phoenix to never remember any passwords at all. I am philosophically opposed to a password manager and so in Mozilla (and IE) I tell the browser to never remember any passwords at all. In Phoenix, your only choices when you type a password is “Remember this password/don’t remember this password/don’t remember any passwords for this site.” The result is that I have to take the last choice for every password site I visit. Perhaps there’s something in prefs.js that would allow me to set it to never remember passwords at all, but at this point, what with Phoenix not saving a cookie for my Salon premium membership so that I have to log in every damned time, I just can’t be bothered. There are simply too many capabilities that are not there in Phoenix, capabilities that I think users need, even novice users. Simplifying the PREFERENCES dialog may seem like a great help, but, in fact, it really isn’t. Choosing good default settings is crucial for non-technical users. But the browser needs to be adjustable in areas that affect usability. Phoenix makes it much too hard to have a decent, personalized browsing experience.