Hands On: Mozilla 0.9, Part 1

Originally published 10 May 2001 as a Tech Reflections article for Low End Mac.

After reading a reader's comment on MacInTouch that the new 0.9 build of Mozilla (the next-generation Web browser based on the open source of Netscape) was available and actually pretty good, I decided to take a look at it myself for a couple of days. What follows are observations, criticisms, and helpful hints and tips about the latest build.

Installation is a snap — all you have to do is unstuff the .sea file and it's done. I like this old-fashioned method. Score one for Mozilla!

Launching Mozilla for the first time took about 60 seconds to "register" a bunch of "components" and to convert my Netscape 4 user profile. It won't have to convert the profile next time, but I wonder if the component registration could be sped up somewhat. The second time I launched it, the Mac OS's caching cut the component registration to essentially zero, reducing launch time to about 25 seconds, but this is still unacceptably slow for a modern application.

Goshdarnit, this isn't a Microsoft browser, or running on Windoze, so why are the defaults for text display 16-point and 96 dpi?

The menus finally use an MDEF that uses the Platinum appearance, nearly four years after Mac OS 8 was first introduced. Score another for Mozilla. (Netscape still doesn't use the modern MDEFs, and there's really no excuse for it.)

Mozilla scrolls the Low End Mac home page about 25% slower than IE 5, but the scrolling is a lot smoother. I'm undecided but leaning toward slower (but smoother) scrolling as my preference.

Mozilla doesn't display the (often substantial) extra navy marble background at the bottom of the Low End Mac home page or at the bottom of stories, like IE does. I suspect this is due to the more HTML specification-compliant page-rendering/layout engine in Mozilla.

There's still no keystroke to open the Preferences; it has to be done from a menu. Adding this using ResEdit would be simple, but there's no reason it can't be done on the code level, and command-; is becoming the de facto standard for a Preferences dialog shortcut. (Another compelling reason to use cmd-; is that it is currently unused in Mozilla.)

Here are some comparative load times for sites I visit a lot. Times are in seconds (rounded to the nearest 0.5s), and Mozilla times are those as reported by Mozilla itself, which appears to be pretty accurate based on a quick comparison to hand-timing. I averaged several reloads of the page and cleared the cache between reloads so that nothing was cached on either browser:

SiteIE 5Mozilla 0.9
Low End Mac4.0s4.5s

Mozilla's page-layout engine, quite frankly, puts IE5's to shame on many sites. Unfortunately, that's one of the few bright spots.

Then I did the same thing, but didn't clear the cache, and used the back button to go back to each of the four sites.

SiteIE 5Mozilla 0.9
Low End Mac<0.5s1.0s

For all practical purposes, IE5's layout engine is instantaneous when going backward or forward through the recently-visited pages. Mozilla's has a noticeable lag, though it's not nearly as bad as it was with Netscape 4.x. Part of the problem, too, is that Mozilla seems to load new ads or reload old ones more often, and ResExcellence has a couple ads that are particularly slow to load right now. Since network traffic and browser performance are independent of each other, I tried to redo the previous test with images turned off. So much for that idea — turning off image loading in Mozilla's preferences doesn't actually do anything. Oops.

The Preferences dialog is resizable and movable; you can also put Mozilla in the background when it's open. Small problem, though — it doesn't remember the status of the expanded-view triangles for the different preference panes. Score one for IE5.

Cookies can now be selectively deleted as in IE 5. Good work, Mozilla!

Goshdarnit again. Let Composer die. No one uses it, its HTML generation is terrible (not even remotely spec-compliant), and it's just taking up resources. The same goes for the Mail and News component, except less so because two people actually use Netscape Mail. At least break 'em apart and make the Mail and News and Composer bits optional components. iCab and IE both use Internet Config to handle mailto: URLs; why do Mozilla's programmers insist on keeping a mediocre-at-best mail client in the application?

Speaking of which, someone wanna explain why Mozilla needs 32 MB RAM as a default? I don't even give Netscape Communicator that much, and it's incredibly bloated. Score another for IE5.

Moving the insertion point around when typing in a URL often leaves visual artifacts in the Location bar. It's a minor annoyance and probably easy to fix.

There doesn't seem to be any way to make the navigation bar in Mozilla text-only buttons. I miss those, because it allowed for less screen space to be dedicated to the browser and more to the Web page. This seems to be related to the new "Theme" feature, which reminds me...

The "Modern" theme looks really silly with the Mac OS Platinum appearance, and I don't think it will look much better when it's combined with Aqua. It's a nice theme; it just looks weird with the Platinum window elements. Now maybe it's just me, but I think a Web browser should be functional before it's "pretty." If I have to give up some "pretty" to get a nice 8 MB RAM footprint, then so be it. I can live without some eye candy. Somehow, a lot of software designers these days don't seem to understand this.

The command keys for Forward, Back, View Source, and Close Window don't always work, and there doesn't seem to be any reason why. This doesn't sound like much, but it's really annoying.

More to come in Part 2.

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson