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Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Extensions or Total Integration?

Bear in mind that I've never publicly bashed Firefox, though I do prefer Opera. I think any browser that's updated often, has decent support, and isn't Internet Explorer is a good browser.

But I've seen the bashing of both these browsers. People, get a life (though I'm about to offer proof that I don't have one), you can argue a point without having a flame war.

Here's a level headed approach to comparing FF's extensions against Opera's integrated features.

Slightly less secure than an integrated approach. I say this because an independent of FF third party coder does not have the manpower or resources to fully test Firefox plus extension in question. Compared to IE this isn't that big of a concern. Another security issue is that often the extension is hosted on a third party site. That's fine for, say, me, who knows what he's looking for and can find the best extension for a specific purpose. But for someone switching from IE only recently could very well find the FF extension of their favorite spy ware program, hence making the switch a pointless exercise in security. If you didn't exercise caution using IE, what makes you say that you will with Firefox?

There are also some usability concerns with extensions. Case in point is this, many extensions work differently than their integrated counterparts. Though this mostly only affects Opera users who occasionally browse with Firefox (there are more of us than you may realize), the amount of annoyances this causes is enough to turn off an Opera user from Firefox. For example, I use past-and-go several times throughout the day. P&G is a shortcut that when used, acts as a combination of CTRL-V and enter in the address bar. Now in Opera, all I do is copy the URL I want, move over to the address bar, hit CTRL-D and bam, I'm at Google looking for clown porn or what have you. The Firefox extension, however, can only be accessed by right clicking on the address bar and selecting "Paste and Go".

You have no idea how many useless bookmarks I have in FF because of this. And I hate bookmarks with a burning passion. It's browsing for morons, I say. But like I said, this isn't a critique by an IE user, but an Opera user, so many of these things don't much matter.

What guarantee do you have that this program will not break your Firefox, or more importantly, your OS. In fact, I've had this happen to me once, where an extension corrupted FF. A headache I could have avoided had I been aware that the specific extension conflicted with an existing one. The OS claim is rather far-fetched, but by virtue of the previous problem, can and might exist.

Up until a few months ago I learned that bloat wasn't just how small the program was versus its function. I'll weigh more on the alternate definition when I get to the integrated portion of my comparison. Firefox, by itself, does so little when you think about it. You use it to browse the Internet. Granted, as time goes by, the complexity of the net increases. It isn't just HTML anymore. But directly comparing Opera to FF, two programs which I consider to be comparable to one another, the size of FF being twice that of Opera's makes me wonder how optimal the code really is.

Integrated Features (as I do have a bias, one which I freely admit, I will attempt to balance this portion with the previous, both in content and criticism):
Off the bat, one can see how integrated features do not necessarily affect the security of the program. But there are always bugs, and as the popularity of Opera grows (as it has), I wont be surprised if some security issues are related to specific features. Secunia doesn't rate M2, Opera's built in mail client, but the program as a whole. There unfortunately isn't enough data to support either claim.

Though when an update to the program comes, so does an update for a bug which affects the security of that program. Unlike an extension, where the author updates irregularly (woah, sorta like me).

An integrated feature can realitvely easily be modified through the options dialogue. No tricky hack or editing is needed. Though at times this can be as difficult as a hack. Suppose you don't have the specific parameters of a function? Good luck finding it. And then, those damn Opera features don't work how a FF extension does. This is a standards problem as much as anything, and it's personal preference which approach you prefer.

It sure seems stable, but that's also because the control program I'm using is Closed Source. Internal testing allows these problems to be caught long before the final prodcut, and often before beta testing begins. I prefer a program where the developers are getting paid for what they do directly by the software company (not by sponsors), so I generally do go with CS instead of Open Source.

Here's the tricky part. Until recently I had never heard of feature bloat. And looking at Opera with its integrated features, yeah, it's bloated. There are so many of them that I don't use more than a few. Yes, it's nice to know there's something called "notes" within Opera. But have I ever used it? Nope.

Thing is, even with all these built in features, Opera on average loads much faster on my machine than bare Firefox. But it's a five year old laptop, so I'm sure your results are different from mine.

Conclusion: Use what you want. The only conclusion is what you make of this, compared against your own needs and comfort. Tell me what you think. Comments go below.


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