After months of delays, Mozilla Firefox 4 is released couple of weeks ago. Since I use Firefox only for development, but I am really impressed with work done by Mozilla on this brand new version, I decided to compare it to my browser of choice, Opera from developers point of view.

Opera 11 with Dragonfly Debugger
Opera 11 with Dragonfly Debugger

Opera 11: Intro

Even with only 3% share of the browsers marked worldwide, I think that Opera is best overall browser available. Opera now has everything other browsers have (extensions were the only big flaw of Opera, but Opera 11 has them), and offers much more. Major issue with Opera is that is too standard oriented (yeah, the irony), and because of that some websites (very, very rare) can look a bit wrong in Opera. Most website problems are caused not by Opera but by websites that use browser sniffing code that intentionally cripples website for some browsers, without even testing it, and Opera is usually targeted. These are rare things, and even despite that Opera is the best browser available now.

For web development, Opera has Dragonfly. Dragonfly started slow some 2 years ago, but now it can do anything Firebug for Firefox can do. Biggest problem is that you need some time to get used to different interface and different controls layout. But out of the box, you get much more than with Firebug including: support for HTML5 storage, Color Picker with palette editor, comprehensive CSS and JS errors panel (with extra info on errors in SVG, Java, HTML, XML XSLT including CSS filter settings), amazing JavaScript debugger with syntax color coding and much more. For some of the advanced features you need to install more Firebug related extensions in Firefox and that will make it slower and slower. That’s not happening with Opera and I really don’t remember when Dragonfly in Opera crashed even with 40 or more tabs open.

Firefox 4 with Firebug Debugger
Firefox 4 with Firebug Debugger

Firefox 4: Intro

I never was fan of Firefox. But, for the long time, Firefox had one very important advantage (from developers point of view): Firebug extension for web development.

Last week, a long time overdue, Firefox 4.0 was released. I tried several beta versions over the past 4-5 months, and they were actually worse than 3.6 versions. But, things changed for better, and Firefox turned out to be better browser than I expected. Most important thing is the speed and lower memory usage. Apart from cosmetic changes, Firefox 4 has important updates to security, support for latest web technologies, and many changes to the tabs. New tab groups feature is total rubbish, it’s slow and confusing. Opera’s tab stacking is much, much better. Firefox ‘borrowed’ many features Opera has for sometime now like new orange button replacement for top menu.

But, since I use Firefox for development only, I am happy that Firefox is faster and that it’s crashing far less then 3.6. Firebug extension is standard tool for every developer, but depending on what you need to do, debugging can be nightmare due to crashes and memory leaks. Debugging large document with a lot of JavaScript and DOM changes will easily crash on a Quad Core computer with 8GB RAM leaking couple of GB of memory in Firefox.

Compared to Dragonfly, you will need to add few more Firebug related extensions for cookies and color picker that are standard in Opera. So far (as far as I know) there is no HTML5 storage support in Firebug and error reporting in Firebug is not as good as in Opera.

Opera 11: Stability & Speed

Even if you use alpha and beta development versions, Opera is very, very stable browser, even for development and debugging. On the average, I have 20-40 tabs opened in Opera non stop (stacked in few stacks), and Opera is always running on both my computers, one of them is now running for 44 days without restart and Opera is on for 44 days without crashing once (stable 11.0)! On my development laptop I use always latest development versions and they do crash once in every few days.

Opera is fast. Very, very, very fast. Only Google Chrome can be compared to it. There is nothing more to say, because even with new 4.0, Firefox is still much slower not as nearly comfortable to use. Opera is fast and stable even with many extensions active (I have 10 extensions active in Opera).

Firefox 4: Stability & Speed

Firefox 4 is more stable and faster than 3.6. But, it’s still nowhere stable enough for smooth development work I need it to be. Even when I use only one or two tabs active, every 2 hours of work, and I have to close it to free up memory and to close JavaScript that I was trying to debug and that will crash Firefox on it’s own if left on for a bit longer. Opening more than 5-6 tabs for debug purposes makes it very hard to work with. And, more extensions active, more instability. Speed is not that bad as it was in 3.6, but when you do intensive debug work it can get very annoying to wait for something I can do in Opera almost instantly.

When used for casual browsing, Firefox is not bad, but with many tabs active is unusable. New tab groups are massive fail: slow, confusing and nowhere near intuitive to use as tab staking in Opera, and if you are not careful, you can easily close all your tabs with one button click.

Most important thing with all this: things I can do in Opera with debugging I can never do with Firefox with same level of comfort. Only reason I still have Firefox on is to test code compatibility just in case, and because I still didn’t quite used to Dragonfly in Opera. Well, years of using Firebug has taken its toll.

Why no Chrome (or Safari) in this comparison?

I very rarely use Google Chrome and I don’t like it’s debugger and development tools as too confusing. I only use Chrome (as I do Safari or IE) for testing. IE is awful browser in any version (including new 9.0) and debug in it is a nightmare. Only (proper) way to debug in IE is with Visual Studio.

Opera 11 vs Firefox 4

I am web developer for some 10 years, and I used every browser in that period. Opera has come a long way, and right now it’s the best browser for any use. For development, I am now doing 90% of my debug work in Opera, and I will not go back to Firefox until Mozilla do a right thing and make a fully rounded browser that is fast and stable. As it looks right now, that’s not gonna happen anytime soon.

If you are developer stuck to Firefox and all it’s bugs and many problems, slowness and instability, I highly recommend you try Opera 11. You will be surprised how good it is.

Opera:
http://www.opera.com/
Firefox:
http://www.getfirefox.com/
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About the author

MillaN
MillaN
Dev4Press owner and lead developer

Programmer since the age of 12 and now WordPress developer with more than 8 years of WordPress experience, author of more than 100 plugins and more than 20 themes.

10 Comments

  1. jb510 says:

    Interesting post, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ve used many many browsers over the years going all the way back to Mosaic, but I’ve never used Opera.

    For many years I used FF as my primary browser and development platform then about 9 months ago I started using Chrome as my primary browser. It took a couple tries swtich to it for development before I got comfortable enough with the development tools to ditch FF.

    Now I use Chrome for both daily browsing and development. FireFox w/ firebug for development on very rare occasion… and I leave Safari as a virgin browser (no plugins/extension) just in case I think I have a conflict with something… Maybe I’ll add Opera to the mix as well…

    Oh… I use IE Tester on XP & W7 in a veritual machine for cross browser testing.

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    1. MillaN says:

      Thanks for the comment. I always had issues with IE Tester, too many bugs. But I would be interested to try it again if they have improved its stability.

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  2. I’ve installed IE8, Safari, Firefox, Opera and Chrome. My favorite is Chrome. Developmet, security and clear workspace are only first three reasons of many others that comes out now.

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  3. Justin says:

    I have used most browsers on most OS’s and I have been happy with Opera as my primary browser for browsing and Web Development for about 4 years now. Every other web browser I use just feels wrong or out dated compared to Opera. I will never go back to Firefox and Chrome does not come out of the box with a enough features. Opera out of the box does everything I need. No need to send hours hunting for add-ons or plug-ins. The new extensions are just gravy for me.

    One small suggestion would be to put the links to the relevant websites. This way new users to one of the browser don’t have to search for the correct website.

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    1. MillaN says:

      Thanks for your comment. I have added links for all browsers.

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  4. John says:

    I have a relatively slow laptop (celeron m based on win xp, 6yrs old) and opera is the only browser i use because it runs so well on my machine. I was using ie7 previously, but that became very slow with some websites and also when lots of tabs were opened. I do have firefox installed, but only use it for certain things, as it takes a long time to load on my machine. Overall i like opera’s responsiveness and the minimal demands it places on my system. Surprised more people are not using it.

    The only problem i do have with it, and why i still use ie7 sometimes, is that roboform doesn’t work with opera which is a real big shame as otherwise opera would do everything i needed.

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    1. MillaN says:

      Opera has auto fill forms feature for years built in. Open Opera Settings->Preferences->Forms and you can use it same as robo forms.

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  5. I was a little disappointed with Firefox 4. I don’t know if it’s gotten more bloated, but it just doesn’t seem to be as responsive as it used to; it’s certainly not as ‘snappy’ as Opera or Chrome, not to even mention how Mozilla virtually copied Opera’s UI. However, if you do SEO/web development, I think Firefox is essential.

    But now that Opera is supporting plugins starting with v11, and virtually matches the speed of Chrome, it’s like having the best of both browsers in one. One of Google’s biggest touts for Chrome is it’s individual tab processes, supposedly making it more ‘secure’. But last year, Symantec labeled Opera as the most secure browser. And I see some calling for Opera to use tab processes too, but Chrome, and now IE9, both use processes for tabs and they’re both memory hogs.

    As for features, I’ve always been impressed with how feature-rich Opera is with only an ~8MB download and ~21MB install. I think I’d like to see a built-in HTML5 player and PDF viewer for Opera like Chrome has. One thing’s for sure—Opera has a history of innovating browser features while everyone else catches up.

    Opera FTW.

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  6. anupam singh gautam says:

    Opera is a good browser it keeps adding new features with time ,firefox is good with (ad block + script block ) in this bloated adware cyberspace.. chrome is the most unstable (try watching a youtube movie with divx plugin) and safari is good for mac only… ie9 is for kids

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  7. Ashkan says:

    thank you for this comparison.
    Personally I’m using Opera on Windows and Linux. but I have same problem in both! I’m Persian and my language is Persian (farsi). in many sites Opera can not show Persian correctly.

    Most important cons of firefox is huge memory usage!

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