Con Carlyon inspired this post today. He’s kept an eye on the best browser and forwarded me a test from TechCrunch where Firefox, Chrome, IE9 and Opera 11 are pitted against one another. The victors are Firefox and Chrome.
My needs are quite different from most people. For starters, the number-one criterion for me on any browser is decent typography. Firefox has been, at least since v. 3, the most typographically aware browser, picking up the correct typefaces from stylesheets, and providing access to all installed fonts on a system through its menu.
I had done these tests before, but I thought it was about time I revisited the main four browsers and their typographic capability. These were all done on the same machine, and the full screen shots are available if anyone wants to see them. Firefox and IE9 were already on my system but were checked to be current and up to date. Chrome and Opera were downloaded today (February 23, 2012).
This is not a test about Java or overall speed, just typography. But I would have to give the speed crown to Chromeâbearing in mind that my Firefox is full of extensions and add-ons.
The Lucire home page
Not the latest HTML, but there is a fairly standard stylesheet. Here is how the four browsers performed.
I am used to this, so I don’t see anything unusual. Firefox is my browser of choice (though I have since tried Waterfox 64-bit, and noticed no speed difference). It picks up the web font (Fiduci, in the headline), kerns (see We in Week) and the text font, Dante, is installed on this machine. It’s the ﬁrst type family speciﬁed in the stylesheet.
Kerning: 1. Font ﬁdelity: 1.
Not much difference on the left-hand side. However, Chrome fails to pick up Dante, even though it’s installed. It’s opted for Monotype Garamond for the body text. It’s the eighth typeface family speciﬁed in the stylesheetâan unusual choice. At least two of the other typeface families preceding Garamond are installed on this machine.
Kerning: 1. Font ﬁdelity: 0.
Microsoft Internet Explorer 9
Awful. IE9âs bugs have already been documented on this blog, and it is very limited on which fonts it allows you to access in its menu (TTFs only). There is no kerning, and Monotype Garamond, again, has been chosen as the text font. There were some even less attractive choices on the home page that I didn’t take a screen shot of.
Kerning: 0. Font ﬁdelity: 0.
Interestingly, Fiduci is picked up for the headlines and Dante for the text. But a bug that Firefox had back in v. 2 in 2006, and which I ﬁled with the makers of Opera in 2010, remains present. Opera fails to display characters above ASCII 128 properly, and when it hits a ligature, it will change the following characters to a different typeface, in this case, Times. No kerning, either.
Kerning: 0. Font ﬁdelity: 0Â·5.
A Lucire news page
Much the same comments apply from the above, but it gave me conﬁrmation of each browser’s issues.
The ﬁrst choices in each CSS spec are picked up.
Instead of the Lucire typeface in the central column, Chrome speciﬁes Verdana, the sixth typeface family for the spec.
Microsoft Internet Explorer 9
Same as Chrome, except without the kerning.
Correct typefaces, but for the changing fonts in the middle of the line.
If I really didn’t care about typeâand most people don’tâI would have a hard time choosing between Chrome and Firefox. On this test alone, Chrome was the fastestâbut I suspect a Firefox without add-ons would be comparable. But once you factor in type, Chrome makes some very odd decisions, as does IE9, about which fonts it chooses from the installed base. It doesn’t, consistently, pick the ﬁrst oneâand previous versions did.
Interestingly, Chrome now displays Facebook in Verdana. When I ﬁrst encountered it, it displayed Facebook in our in-house Lucire 1, which we had programmed to substitute for Arial on our older machines.
So somewhere along the line, someone changed the way Chrome picked fonts, but having something installed is no longer a guarantee it will even show up on Google’s browser. That can’t be good for corporate environments where companies have paid a site- or company-wide licence to have the correct fonts installed. But I’m glad Chrome now uses the kerning pair data in fonts, and that’s made a positive difference to legibility.
IE9 is simply terrible. It made the same wrong calls as Chrome, but, to make things worse, it won’t even use the kerning data. Of the four tested, it comes dead last.
Opera is not far ahead, mind, at least based on the arbitrary point scale I assigned above. While it picks up the correct typefaces, some might think its irritating habit of changing fonts mid-line to be more annoying. It could well be, as this does nothing for reading. Imagine every quotation mark and every word with a ligature changingâfor no apparent reason. As mentioned, this bug was in Firefox in 2006, and Opera knows about it, but evidently Opera users are not displeased with the glitch and it remains unﬁxed.
Typographically, Firefox 10.0.2 is the victorâand that’s no surprise. When I discovered bugs in Firefox 4, I was met with professional developers on the forums who actually understood type and the niceties behind the OpenType spec. Those are details some professional typeface designers don’t know. It looks I won’t be changing browsers any time soon.
PS.: I got two pop-ups today (December 21) of the same nature, this time while using Facebook. I think we can rule out Speed Dial as the reason.âJY
For the Firefox bofﬁns out there, I began using Super Start, after having trialled Speed Dial and Fast Dial over the past year or so.
These replicate what Opera users are used to with their Speed Dial, and what Google Toolbar users have with their menus. Your most accessed websites are shown to you in thumbnail format when you open a new tab.
Super Start is probably the best of them all so far. It’s compact, doesn’t seem to drain the resources, and you can program more than the eight that it comes with (I presently have 12).
I only began seeking an alternative to Speed Dial because OpenX ad pop-ups began appearing. I don’t know what was causing them, but since I work with only a small handful of sites, it seemed odd that these were appearing each time I opened a new tab, usually to begin searching with Duck Duck Go. I was reasonably sure they were not coming with the search engine, Facebook or our own company sites. They were quite hard to get rid of, with a script that had a new window open up if you closed the ﬁrst.
I have no proof that these were connected to Speed Dial, and they could have come from any website that I visited. Maybe there was a delay from another website (not uncommon). However, it’s equally odd that they have ceased to appear after I deleted Speed Dial and replaced it with Super Start. To my knowledge, Speed Dial sent me no notiﬁcation of a recent update that might have brought with it these pop-ups. At best, Speed Dial was the victim of unfortunate timing.
Again, I’m blogging this in case other computer users have had the same issue creep up recently. Maybe we can narrow down the cause of these sudden pop-ups.
Looks like Google isnât the only guilty party when it comes to advertising cookies.
Andrew Carr-Smith sent me this link from Stanford Universityâs Center for Internet and Society (CIS), which has been tracking how the advertising networks track us.
This is slightly different from my earlier situation, which did not involve the ‘Do Not Track’ programme that one can ﬁnd in Firefox 5. Mine was strictly about the opting out of behavioural targeting using Google’s own opt-out system, and that of the Network Advertising Initiative. Still, the implications for privacy remain interesting.
You might think you’ve asked them not to track you, but they do:
Half of the NAI members we tested did not remove their tracking cookies after opting out. NAI member companies pledge only to allow opting out of behavioral ad targeting, not tracking. Of the 64 companies we studied, 32 left tracking cookies in place after opting out.
At least eight NAI members promise to stop tracking after opting out, but nonetheless leave tracking cookies in place.
According to the Stanford study, only two ad networks ‘are taking overt steps to respect Do Not Track’: Media6Degrees and BlueKai. Interestingly, Google was one of networks that ‘go beyond their privacy policies and remove their tracking cookies.’
I have to wonder whether it was because it got busted with its lies about opting out.
The ad networks have provided responses at the bottom of the page, mostly positive.
I am happy to say that Firefox 4 Release Candidate 1 is working smoothly with no crashes to date. It reminds me of, well, Firefox 3Â·0, before Mozilla started doing weird things to it and we had the multiple-crashing 3Â·5 and 3Â·6. Let’s hope this situation lasts.
Meanwhile, the bugs I reported to the Chromium people in October and November 2010 have ﬁnally received responses. It’s too long compared with Mozilla. I told the chap that I had given up on Chrome, but I downloaded it today just to see where things were at.
Based on the latest Chromium, the incomplete font menu bug has, indeed, been ﬁxed, though various font-changing ones still appear present. There are still font-linking and character-set issues. (The images below have had their colour depth reduced for faster loading.)
Above and left: When Chromium hits a ligature, the line or part of the line changes font. Opera does something similar: it changes the font of the one word that contains the ligature.
Left: Chromium might just decide to change fonts anywayâlikely a Postscript error already sorted in Mozilla thanks to the likes of Jonathan Kew.
Above: At least there are fewer font changes than last timeâthough Chromium continues to struggle with soft hyphens.
Meanwhile, after I reported spam faxes (a breach of the Telecommunications Act) to Telstra Clear, I was surprised to learn that my case was never examined. I had to open a new ticket with new faxes today. The excuse was the backlog of work post-Christchurch earthquake and, in the circumstances, I had to accept that.
One was for a law ﬁrm, as far as I could make out. I wouldn’t hire a lawyer who breaches the Telecommunications Act. They shot themselves in the foot with that one.
My main reason for calling, however, was the Text-a-Park service that the WCC offers. I hate cellphones, but had brought one with me on one of those rare occasions, and decided to give the service a go. I fed in the code, dialled 7275, and was told by the meter that the transaction had failed. No parking ticket was generated.
Just as well. I prefer to use a credit card anyway, and fed that in. I got my ticket and my credit card was charged.
Problem: as I walked away from my car, I received an SMS saying (sic), ‘Thanks for using TXT-a-Park. Your transaction for $6.50 has been accepted.’ I have no idea how one gadget says it’s failed and another says it’s succeeded, and my quantum physics isn’t good enough to ﬁgure out into which alternative universe this supposedly successfully printed ticket went to.
Of course, the charge appeared on my Telstra Clear bill today.
There’s a reason that jokers like me don’t use cellphones. Because, each time we do, they bite us on the bum. Though a buttcheek bite is better than testicular cancer.
I’d urge folks to check their billsâif you haven’t received a ticket from a Wellington parking meter, and you still got charged for it, then give the telco a call.
Microsoft has released its Internet Explorer 9 to much fanfare at SXSW. I’m really not sure what the fuss is, because it appears, as usual, the browser hasn’t been tested.
Here it is on my Asus laptop, running Vista.
That’s apparently my company’s home page. Looks slightly different to how Firefox, Chrome and Opera display it:
I might dislike Chrome but at least that browser shows something other than pitch black with a few tiny details.
Let’s go to the most well known website in the world. Surely IE9 can display that and that its beta testers must have been to Google. Unless Google is banned at Microsoft and everyone uses Bing. Here’s what Google’s home page looks like:
I knew Microsoft was aiming for a minimalist look, but isn’t that taking it a bit far?
You won’t see it on the screen shot above but there is a blinking cursor. You can begin typing, but nothing echoes on the screen. On pressing âEnterâ, you do get a search page, and, lo and behold, it resembles the usual Google results’ pageâkind of.
What if I scroll down?
Conclusion, based on one machine that can run every other browser: Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 is a load of cobblers. I managed to crash it twice on the ﬁrst two web pages I visited, within the ﬁrst two minutes. The rest, you see above. I couldn’t be arsed doing more with it.
Mr Gates, if you want to come back to me when your team has actually tested your browser, I will be happy to give it another shot.
Since discovering that Firefox 4 Beta 13 is stable, I have spent less time with Firefox 3Â·6, the buggiest, most oft-crashing program I have ever used in 30 years of computing.
But I used it today enough times to net myself ﬁve crashes, though this is above average. The ‘unmark purple’ bug that plagued me for so long has disappeared, which indicates it was an error with an extension (Flash, maybe?), and the average of four per day has decreased to two to three (on the days I use Firefox 3Â·6 exclusively).
However, since the âquake, I have still netted a number of errors, and apart from one, there is no pattern to them. Here are the last 13 on this machine (I’ve used it a bit more on my laptop, which doesn’t have 4 Beta):
I have no idea what any of this means, but to the layman it suggests the gremlins are everywhere in the program. (The defence by Firefox proponents in claiming that post-3Â·5 versions are the most stable releases falls on deaf ears here: 3Â·0 and 3Â·6Â·10 crashed far less often.)
I’ll sure be glad when Firefox 4 rolls out, and I have been really impressed by the bug-ﬁghting and beta-testing programmers. They have actually listened to what I have to say and conﬁrmed that most of the bugs I have reported existed. It’s already a darned sight better than Chrome and its nearly-every-session âAw, snapâ pages, of which no screen shot can be taken.
But based on the above crashes, there is, of course, no mystery on why Chrome’s market share has increased and Firefox’s has decreased. Chrome crashes, but not as oftenâand most won’t care about its typographic problems or the lack of support. Mozilla needs to get 4 out ASAP: the more 3 crashesâand judging by the comments in Bugzilla, the rate of crashing remains remarkably highâthe more likely users will hop over to the competition.
Firefox 4 Beta 13 works, and I have not found any bugs with it.
I may be wrong, but I believe this is the last beta before release.
What’s amazing is that the bugs I have been complaining about for a long time have each been ﬁxed. In other words, the reporting system works.
While for many versions, most of the Beta 4 text was unreadable, eventually bug reports to both Mozilla Support and Bugzilla got things on the radar.
That took a bit too long for my liking, and you do have to persist. But once I was “in the system”, things got resolved fairly quickly.
One of the Mozilla bofﬁns created a patch that I could use to tell him what fonts I was using, to trouble-shoot the unreadable UI.
When those font issues were ﬁxed, I noticed that there were still some errant numeralsâa bug that Chrome also has. The difference: at Mozilla, it got ﬁxed. Someone (Jonathan Kew) believed me, had at the back of his mind what it was, and wrote code to sort it out.
We all worked it out together, with a layman like me providing screen shots and some public domain fonts on request, and the real experts then doing the hard yards.
The main thing was that I was believed and it was conﬁrmed, on each occasion, that I had a valid complaint.
Unlike a certain other browser from a company which, I must say, did a good job with the Google Person Finder in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.
I don’t deny they do good sometimesâit’s just that they slip up far too often other times.
The Chrome bug reporting and forums are about as useless as those for Blogger.
Features I’m discovering in Beta 13 are really nice, now that I am no longer being distracted by the wrong fonts displaying.
The box in which I am entering this text can be resizedânot something I could do on Chrome or Firefox 3.
More fonts’ kerning pairs are being read (see above left): someone at Mozilla likes typography. Some text-sized pairs look a little tight, but that’s a small complaint.
Some alternative characters in OpenType fonts are showing upâwhether that was intended or not, I don’t know. But it seems Firefox 4 is, at least, accessing them.
It’s not a memory hog: I estimate the memory usage is on a par with Firefox 3.
The promise of Firefox being reliable seems to have been realized: it took me days to crash Beta 12, and Beta 13 is so far, so good.
The user interface is cleanerânot Chrome-clean, but pretty good.
The speed seems improved, though I still feel Chrome is quicker. But I’d rather wait the extra hundredth of a second and have the page displayed properly.
Hopefully, once installed on my system, Firefox 4 is going to work a treat. Well done, guys.
If you’re going to have speedy R&D, it sure pays to have a system which embraces user experiences, working as much in parallel with your own team as possible.
It’s quite pathetic to be blogging about something like this on the day of the Christchurch earthquake, but Jonathan Kew, who has kept on the font-changing bug in the Firefox 4 betas after I mentioned it to him, has created a patch that sorts the problem out. Apparently, it applies to old PS1 fonts: Firefox was rejecting the glyph index 31 in these fonts.
Jonathan is a real ally to the type community, and understands the industry’s needs very well. We’re lucky to have a guy like that involved in browser development. Here’s hoping for approval for the patch.
Thank goodness for Boris, who commented on one of my Firefox posts here. Since he’s been on here, he’s asked me to ﬁle a new bug report, and he’s now getting a bunch of Mozilla bofﬁns to investigate the font display error that I’ve been having since I’ve begun to download the v. 4 betas. Hooray!
This is a public thank-you to Boris, for giving a damn, and, from what I can tell, having the expertise and the connections to look in to this bug. The number of techs now working on the bug has increased (from one to four), and I’m ﬁnally feeling hopeful about the Mozilla development programme for its next-generation browser.
I would have hated to have dumped Firefox 4 on release if it was the only program I could not read. The suggestions on the Mozilla support site have included removing Helvetica from one’s font menu, because it had seemed to one of the helpers there that both Helvetica and Lucida were causing problems. (I don’t want to take a dig at this guy because he is, unlike the Google person I wrote about last year, genuinely trying to help.) I pointed out that it seemed to be these two because of their wide installation base and frequent appearances in CSS specs, and the fault still lay with Firefox 4 itself.
I don’t know whether to call Boris’s attention a ﬂuke or the system workingâI had been on this like a dog on a bone, and I guess eventually one of my messages in Bugzilla would get noticed. Whatever the case, I’m grateful for it, and for playing a part in getting a pretty serious bug remedied.
What I do know is that the equivalent on Chrome has been ignored on the Google forums, so Google has continued to put out a browser that can neither handle SVG font embedding properly (conﬁrmed by Andrew when he tested it) nor display bolds (see my titles at my Tumblr)! The <b> and <strong> codes seem to be foreign to it, unless you program in what they mean in your CSS.
Assuming the bofﬁns get to the bottom of the Firefox 4 bug, I suspect we will see a very sharp, typographically advanced browser released in the New Year. Let’s hope it doesn’t crash four times a day!