IT’S BEEN YEARS since I gave a second thought to my web browser. Safari’s fine, Microsoft Edge is whatever, I think Opera still exists? None have ever offered much reason to switch away from Chrome, Google’s fast, simple web tool. I’m not the only one who feels this way, either: Chrome commands nearly 60 percent of the browser market, and is more than four times as popular as the second-place finisher, Firefox. Chrome won the browser wars.
So my expectations for Firefox Quantum, the new browser from Mozilla, were not particularly high. Mozilla made big promises about Quantum’s speed and efficiency, which are what everyone makes big promises about when they launch a new browser, and they never really make a difference in the experience. Sure, a couple dozen Chrome tabs can bring even the beefiest computer hardware grinding to a beach-balling halt, but Chrome does the job. What could Firefox even do to win me over?
It turns out there are lots of things Firefox Quantum could do to improve the browser experience, and it did many of those things. The new Firefox actually manages to evolve the entire browser experience, recognizing the multi-device, ultra-mobile lives we all lead and building a browser that plays along. It’s a browser built with privacy in mind, automatically stopping invisible trackers and making your history available to you and no one else. It’s better than Chrome, faster than Chrome, smarter than Chrome. It’s my new go-to browser.
The speed thing is real, by the way. Mozilla did a lot of engineering work to allow its browser to take advantage of all the multi-core processing power on modern devices, and it shows. Every page seems to load one beat sooner than I expect, which makes the whole browsing experience that much more efficient. It’s not life-changingly different, and I can’t say I notice the 100 percent advantage Mozilla swears it has over Chrome, but it definitely feels zippier. I definitely notice Firefox’s better memory usage; I routinely find myself with 30 or 40 tabs open while I’m researching a story, and at that point Chrome effectively drags my computer into quicksand. So far, I haven’t been able to slow Firefox Quantum down at all, no matter how many tabs I use.
Again, though, speed and memory aren’t enough to merit the hassle of switching browsers (even if they should be). Rather, it’s the little things, the things you do with and around the web pages themselves, that make Firefox really work. For instance: If you’re looking at a page on your phone and want to load that same page on your laptop, you just tap “Send to Device,” pick your laptop, and it opens and loads in the background as if it had always been there. You can save pages to a reading list, or to the great read-it-later service Pocket (which Mozilla owns), both with a single tap. Pocket also surfaces a bunch of articles you might like when you open a new tab, which is a delightful way to bring actual browsing back to the browser.
Quantum feels like a bunch of power users got together and built a browser that fixed all the little things that annoyed them about other browsers. It has a QR code reader built in. It has a menu item for copying a URL, and if you’ve ever tried to copy and paste a long URL on your phone you know how nice that is. Firefox even makes screenshots more intuitive: it can capture a section, everything on your screen, or the entire webpage all at once. You can even turn on “Night Mode” and invert the colors on most blindingly white websites. All these things are so fiddly in other browsers, requiring bookmarklets and extensions to work. Firefox just put them all in the browser.
Firefox has always been a remarkably customizable app, and Quantum takes the idea even further. You can move all the buttons around, change every color and font, and even control the visual density of the app itself. You’re able to choose which app opens when you click on an email address, which every Gmail user will appreciate. Mozilla has a huge library of add-ons, and if you use the Foxified extension, you can even run Chrome extensions in Firefox. Best I can tell, there’s nothing you can do in Chrome that you can’t in Firefox. And Firefox does them all faster.
Aesthetically, Firefox looks just like Chrome, which is a good thing. Rather than separate the search bar and address bar, Quantum combines them, just like Chrome. Tabs are rectangular and uncomplicated, as they should be. Since it’s doing so much, Quantum does get a bit cluttered in spots, like when you search in the box and it offers you autocomplete options, search results, and a bunch of other search-engine options all in the same window. But in general it’s clean and simple, like a good browser should be.
Switching browsers is kind of a pain. They’re the most important, most-used apps on just about all our devices, and there’s a steep learning curve in trying to figure out a new one. And in a few cases, it might even be impossible; I can’t use the Conde Nast CMS in anything other than Chrome, so I can’t switch completely. But if there’s ever been a reason to spend an hour importing bookmarks, installing extensions, and tweaking all your settings just so, Firefox Quantum is it. It’s a truly 2017 browser, and it might be the only one.