Veit's Blog

The Last Straw

I decided to abandon Firefox. This decision was harder for me than it probably should have been, because I know most of my peers have already migrated to Chrome. I'm late to the party. But my reasoning behind the change might be different from that of most others, and so I will write a quick and angry post about it, because I understand that is what you do on the internet.

From friend to foe

Frontend web development in Firefox has been a real pain for a long time already, annoying enough that it aggravated me during my quick stints at tweaking a UI or adding features to forms—a chore that I have to take up more often than I would like. That's unfortunate, because I used to enjoy working with the development toolbar that Firefox provides, believe it or not. But both of us changed over the years, and so what used to be a feature that enhanced my productivity became an inconvenience. The toolbar of Chrome is just better these days. When working on huge web applications I sometimes have to change to Chrome already, because reloading the page with the toolbar enabled will leave Firefox begging for mercy until it finally freezes. I hear that that is due to the debugger not being able to handle a few megabytes of JavaScript code, which is unacceptable—but on the other hand, so should be shipping multiple megabytes of application code.

But, stubborn as I am, I stayed true to the browser, even as some of my favorite features were killed. After all, these were mere inconveniences, and Chrome has a host of problems and is being developed by a company I am not particularly fond of. I can live with inconvenience. Sometimes I even need inconvenience, for the sake of creativity and productivity. So I ignored these problems, reminding myself what a pain migrating to another browser would be.

A love unspoken

I like typography. I am not an expert—which you can probably infer from the layout of my blog—, but I enjoy thinking about it and I know typography is important for my audience. I know about kerning and ligatures. I have a basic grasp on good and bad fonts. I read Practical Typography, and I enjoyed it. I paid the author for the experience, and I use Charter as my main font for a lot of tasks, such as this blog. And look at the book I linked to just now. Does the layout seem familiar? I will admit to it, I initially stole his layout for my blog. But I think I changed, tweaked, and twisted it enough to rightfully call it my own now—though I will always have to stick a footnote at the end of that blurb. In short, typography is one of my secret, if a bit untended to, love affairs.

Firefox decided good typography probably was not all that important, or at least that is what their development efforts reflect. Let me elaborate.

The last straw

I read the transcript of a talk given by Matthew Butterick at TYPO today. There, he rightfully laments how our expectations of typography are lowered by bad engineering—or rather, wrong priorities in the development of embarassingly typographical technology. He advises the listener to put their money where their mouth is, and act on their convictions. That rang true with me, which makes it even more ironic that while reading the transcript I discovered a bug in Firefox in the interplay of hyphenation and ligatures. Basically, Firefox will use ligatures even if the ligated letters are on different lines, as might happen with hyphenation. This leads to ugly glyphs on the affected letters. “Surely that cannot be due to the very actively maintained font rendering in my browser”, I thought, so I did a little digging and ended up staring at this bug in disbelief—it will also provide you with screenshots, in case you were unable to follow my imperfect description of the bug. It was reported in 2009. Let that sink in for a little bit. It has been a known issue for seven years now, and, unless there has been active conversation about this issue outside of the Bugzilla thread, it has been largely ignored. Even worse, if you believe comment four in the thread, it had also been a “known problem” for some time before.

I checked the webpage with Chrome. It works. Webkit does the right thing, as the thread also details. This was the last straw, and I could not let it stand without acting on it.

Petty I am

I know this issue is minor, and I know it will eventually be fixed. It does not affect my ability to read text on the Web. It will, however, bug me whenever it comes up, even if it's a rare fringe case. I use the Web mostly as a reader, and as such I feel like I should optimize this experience as much as I can. As such, I'll stop using Firefox, because my experience with it in the last few years is best described by a quote attributed to Douglas Adams: “The single raindrop never feels responsible for the flood”. I expect my silent protest to go largely unnoticed, and that is for the best. This experience is wholly personal, and people with priorities not lined up with mine will draw different conclusions than I did. But, for me, the flood has happened, and I hope Chrome will not let it rain on me any more.