From Firefox to Brave

I've used Firefox quite some time, at least since 2009, likely longer. And I've liked the browser. It seemed to have better quality than competitors. When Chrome came out, I was tempted to switch. But I didn't want to let Google have all my data. It was sufficient that they had my address book and calendar, control over my phone and whatnot. My browing history was going to stay with me.

Also I like to support a free software project which values privacy. Given the history with a single dominant browser and the “Optimized for Internet Explorer” era, I really want to see a non-corporate player in the market. But over the past years Firefox has declined in many ways.

My Android phone is a few years old, but it has freaking eight CPU cores and 4 GB memory. That has to be enough to browse a few websites. But with Firefox mobile (Fenix) I regularly had the following: I would have just a single tab with a light website open. I switch to some other app, like Threema. And when I switch back, the website is not present, but Fenix has to load it again. Apparently it threw the website away because one Fenix tab and Threema did not fit into 4 GB at the same time? I didn't think that it was the browser's fault and just thought that it was Android's insane memory handling. Boy, was I wrong. I've read a rant about Fenix which described that exact issue. And the author has switched to Brave, which does not exhibit these issues.

So I also tried Brave. And to my great surprise it can hold multiple tabs in memory when switching apps. This has cured a major annoyance for me. A really annoying use case is when I do something on a website and it eventually asks me to log in. I switch over to KeePass, unlock it and copy the password into the clipboard. Then I go back to Fenix only to find that it lost the site. It loads again and usually I am then back at the landing page. Booking something becomes a pain. I usually try to prepare the password into the clipboard such that I never have to leave Fenix. With Brave it just works, even with multiple app switches.

On the desktop I've also switched to Brave to have bookmark sync. These are both browsers next to each other:

There is Brave on the left, and Firefox on the right. One has to be fair here, Brave uses client-side window decoration and therefore uses more of the screen compared to Firefox, where I explicitly used server-side window decoration. But still, the tab bar in Brave is a bit smaller by default. Most importantly, it is still an actual tab bar. With Firefox there is no difference in fill color for active and inactive tabs. I just don't find the active tab at a glance.

The new tab bar is one of the many examples of user experience disaster that Firefox brings to the users. Years ago, the user interface of Firefox felt superior to the other browsers. I knew where to find things, there were certain advanced features. Also there were tons of add-ons, most of dubious quality, though. And then they started to run various experiments, which usually annoyed the pro users but did not make them gain many new users:

  • The unified address bar replaced the split address and search bar. With the split one it was always clear whether you would search for something or try to access that. Especially with local or intranet services one would quickly sometimes get to a search page, although say c410 was actually the hostname of my printer. I always had to enter http://c410 into the unified bar to actually get there. Today it will open the search site but also ask you afterwards whether you wanted to actually go there.

  • Somehow they put Pocket into the browser. It is a service where you can store things to read later. I already have bookmarks for that, but apparently someone made an app for that. This isn't anything a privacy concious user would use, and I don't see average consumers still trying out Firefox. So what's the point?

  • Then the advertisements on the new tab screen. They were sponsored content, and I can understand that Mozilla needs to raise money. But given how they spend that money on stuff like Pocket instead of fixing bugs, I am mildly annoyed about that.

There likely are more things. But in the end it was a browser which supported add-ons and therefore an ad blocker on mobile. Google Chrome doesn't do that on mobile, and I hate the web without an ad blocker. So Fenix was my natural choice. And I would do something against Chrome monoculture, which was also a plus.

Now with Brave I have a compromise. It uses the Chromium engine, so I am just as part of the monoculture as most other people. But it has a built-in ad blocker, which is very nice. It is also snappier than Firefox, even though Firefox supposedly has the new rendering engine in Rust. And I can finally switch apps on Android without losing my state in a web session, that is the biggest win.