Firefox Vacation

Apple has recently updated Safari (v13) to further restrict the ability of plugins… not actually sure that statement is entirely true without qualification, but for the sake of simplicity it is essentially correct. The immediate result of which is that uBlock-Safari is no longer usable.

The writing has been on the wall for a long time as the project was unmaintained for months – nothing had been pulled from upstream since April of 2018. Yes, it still worked but many of the countermeasures deployed by the attention thieves were becoming annoying.

Despite having a pi-hole configured on the network, which is blocking some 15 – 20% of requests (yes, that’s right roughly a fifth of the internet traffic is tracking / ads / trash), it’s still useful to be able to block at the element level. This “necessity” has lead me back to using Firefox as my default browser for the first time in many years.

For a long time Firefox on OS X / macOS has been horribly inefficient. Just regular browsing would chew through laptop battery at an amazing rate, playing video would immediately spin up fans. The same usage pattern in Safari is much much better. Lately changes have started to land in the Firefox Nightly release that start to address these issues. My understanding is that it is now using the Core Animation APIs and changing the way the compositing happens. You can read all about it in ticket Bugzilla 1429522.

In the longer term, my plan is to return to Safari as the default browser. What is missing is a content blocker that provides element level blocking… most likely that is going to be 1Blocker but i’ve not got around to validating that is the case.

The reason behind this desire to go back to Safari is not entirely straightforward. Despite being annoyed that uBlock Origin can no longer ship as it once did, the rational behind the change to Content Blocking API is essentially sound: plugins doing content level blocking require full visibility of the data being displayed in order to remove the elements which are blocked. With the new API this is somewhat inverted, the content blocker tells the browser what to block and there is no need to trust a third-party with processing all the data. Yes, it’s a pain to go through the transition but given the amount of trust it is necessary to have in a browser and, by extension, it’s plugins, it makes sense.

However, the above is not the entire story. Despite the improvements in Firefox Nightly, it’s still more power hungry than Safari, it just doesn’t integrate as neatly with macOS. Sharing and hand-off don’t happen. Gesture support is lacking (mostly pinch to zoom, which might be supported, but doesn’t work for me in the nightlies). And finally there are niggles like the reader not being a polished, scrolling not feeling as smooth… things that would eventually become annoying.

In summary: back using Firefox; it’s much improved; will probably stay for a while; still expect to return to Safari in the future.

7 thoughts on “Firefox Vacation

  1. I have to add my two cents here as an iMac user (so power is no issue)

    I used Safari a long time ago, I really long time ago, but then switched to Chrome because it had sync so I could easily sync opened tabs between home & office. In the recent years Google fell from grace for me and as I am switching away from google as much as possible I decided to switch to FF about a year ago.

    I used FF as my main development test browser at work, but when I also used it for private it felt extremely unpolished and clunky. Chrome has this super nice built in user switcher, FF had profiles since … ever, but to access them you have to all those hacker stunts.

    But after some time it didn’t feel any different, everything I really needed (uBlock, uMatrix, Rika-chan/kun) is there and works perfect.

    I also like that it auto moves facebook into its own strict tab (and with uMatrix/uBlock all FB is anyway blocked). So overall FF works perfectly fine and I see no reason to switch. And I can’t use Safari anyway because my work iCloud login and private iCloud login are different so syncing is out of the question anyway.

    BTW, hand-off from the iPad to OS works nice and it opens in the default browser 🙂

  2. I have to add my two cents here as an iMac user (so power is no issue)

    I used Safari a long time ago, I really long time ago, but then switched to Chrome because it had sync so I could easily sync opened tabs between home & office. In the recent years Google fell from grace for me and as I am switching away from google as much as possible I decided to switch to FF about a year ago.

    I used FF as my main development test browser at work, but when I also used it for private it felt extremely unpolished and clunky. Chrome has this super nice built in user switcher, FF had profiles since … ever, but to access them you have to all those hacker stunts.

    But after some time it didn’t feel any different, everything I really needed (uBlock, uMatrix, Rika-chan/kun) is there and works perfect.

    I also like that it auto moves facebook into its own strict tab (and with uMatrix/uBlock all FB is anyway blocked). So overall FF works perfectly fine and I see no reason to switch. And I can’t use Safari anyway because my work iCloud login and private iCloud login are different so syncing is out of the question anyway.

    BTW, hand-off from the iPad to OS works nice and it opens in the default browser 🙂

    • Obviously Chrome is out of the question 🙂 FF profiles seems to be replaced by Containers:

      https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/containers

      which i’ve not really looked into. Sync’ing between work and home accounts seem… ill-advised. The good news for FF from my point of view is that the layout / rendering is on a par with Safari. It really has come a long way.

      Yep, hand-off works from iOS to macOS but not in the other direction. Not sure which i use most.

      • I have containers here, but there are NOT profiles. They just have different colored /iconed tabs. What I want is to login with a different profile for different bookmarks, addons, etc. So this is still the good old about:profiles

        Any syncing is totally fine. Private logged in FF account syncs tabs/bookmarks/addones, etc and I don’t have to remember some URL, I just open the tab at home from my work FF install.

        And yes, Airdrop from mac to iPhone is strange, as it seems not to exist. This should be there like it is on any ios device.

        • Ah, that makes sense. Having a profile that didn’t include any add-ons / extension with access to data would be one way of reducing the need to trust them when visiting anything that should be more secure (online banking, etc).

          Will have a play around with about:profiles and see… maybe just setup different icons to launch a separate instance with a specific profile. Did they really get rid of all the profile switching code in the UX?

          Honestly though, if i can’t trust uBlock Origin the world is pretty much fucked!

          • There was never a nice GUI anyway. You can launch it from the command line with -p I think

            When I am back at work I can send you the apple script version I have to launch separate ff with different profiles. Works very well.

            And yes you can’t really live without ublock. Umatrix is just one level more but almost necessary. There is also privacy badger from EFF.

            • do shell script “/Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox-bin -P [PROFILE NAME] -no-remote”

              pretty much this line. [PROFILE NAME] is then the name of the profile to start with. Saved as an .app script file and your good to go

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