OS X Leopard, Firefox 3 and native UI

I installed Firefox 3 yesterday on both my old G4 Mac and my Windows laptop. Arch linux, which I normally use doesn’t have a package for it yet. Firefox 3 has a number of new features, which are being talked about on almost any random technology site, so I won’t bore you with them. I’ll just focus on one thing that I like: the changes to the user-interface.

Firefox 1 and 2 sported a UI that seemed to be uniform across platforms. However this uniformness across platforms also meant that Firefox didn’t quite look like the other applications for the platform. This isn’t really a big thing, especially considering the horrible UI inconsistencies introduced in Windows Vista. But at the same time, it’s little touches like this that can make or break an app. Sure there were skins, but you really want something like that to builtin. One of my favorite pet peeves was regarding Firefox 2 on OS X. The buttons for various web apps like Gmail or the Google search page’s search button would show up as ugly Windows 95-ish rectangular boxes rather the sleek Mac buttons. It was something that really irritated me, since I spent a lot of time in Gmail. I’ve been glad to see that the new Firefox fixes that and adopts a very native look and feel.

I also upgraded my G4 Mac to OS X Leopard today. I had been putting it off since it has only a 1.25GHz processor and less than a gigabyte of RAM. However, it turns out that my fears were mostly unfounded. It took about 20 minutes to install and it runs as fast as Tiger did. The only noticeable difference is that the boot and login times are somewhat longer. But considering that I rarely logout or shutdown, that isn’t really an issue at all. I’m surprised by how Apple’s development takes into account older machines and actively works to extend their lifetimes. This stands in sharp contrast to the effect that Windows has as the Great Moore’s Law Compensator. In fact I will go as far as to say, that some things actually run better on Leopard than on Tiger, the Leopard-Firefox 3 combo in fact seems to very capable.

On Tiger I always experienced Flash videos being somewhat choppy irrespective of what browser I used. That problem no longer exists on Leopard. Furthermore, the UI changes to Firefox fit right in with the overall darker look that Leopard sports. I’m really looking forward to using Spaces, which should come in really handy as I start doing Cocoa application development. I was also impressed by how little impact Spotlight scanning the disk had on performance. I would never have known it was going on if I hadn’t tried to use it. There are some features of Leopard which I won’t be using such as Time Machine ( I have a homegrown SVN backup system), and that will probably mean my system won’t be under a full load anytime. If it turns out that my system can’t handle (considering that I’ll be using Xcode fairly heavily), adding a gigabyte of RAM might help speed things up. I had been considering buying a new Macbook to last me until the end of college, but it seems like my current machine will be all the Mac I’ll need for a few more years (or at least until Snow Leopard hits the stage).

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Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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