Tuesday, September 1, 2020

I'm trying really hard to like the new Android Firefox Daylight. Really, I am.

I've used Firefox for Android nearly since it was first made available (I still have an old version on my Android 2.3 Nexus One, which compared with my Pixel 3 now seems almost ridiculously small). I think it's essential to having a true choice of browsers on Android as opposed to "Chrome all the things" and I've used it just about exclusively on all my Android devices since. So, when Firefox Daylight presented itself, I upgraded, and I'm pained to say I've been struggling with it for the better part of a week. Yes, this is going to be another one of those "omg why didn't I wait" posts, but I've tried to be somewhat specific about what's giving me heartburn with the new version because it's not uniformly bad and a lot of things are rather good, but it's still got a lot of rough edges and I don't want Daylight to be another stick Mozilla gives to people to let them beat them with.

So, here's the Good:

Firefox Daylight is a lot faster than the old Firefox for Android. Being based on Firefox 79, Daylight also has noticeably better support for newer web features. Top Sites are more screen-sparing. Dark mode is awesome. I like the feature where having private tabs becomes a notification: tap it and instantly all your naughty pages private browsing goes poof (and it's a good reminder they're open), or, if this doesn't appeal to you, it's a regular notification and you can just turn it off. Collections sound like a neat idea and I'll probably start using them if things get a little unwieldy. I'm not a bar-on-the-bottom kind of guy myself, but I can see why people would like that and choice is always good.

All this is a win. Unfortunately, here's the Bad I'm running into so far:

This has been reported lots of places, but the vast majority of the extensions that used to work with the old Firefox suddenly disappeared. For me, the big loss was Cookie Quick Manager, which was a great mobile-friendly way to manage cookies. Now I can't. Hope I don't screw up trying to get around those paywalls sites storing data about me. At least I still have uBlock Origin but I don't have much else.

Firefox Reader doesn't universally appear on pages it used to. Sometimes reloading the page works, sometimes it doesn't. This is a big problem for mobile. Worse, the old hack of prepending an about:reader?url= doesn't seem to work anymore.

Pages that open new windows or tabs sometimes show content and sometimes don't. This actually affects some of my sites personally, so I filed a bug on it. Naturally, it works fine in desktop Firefox and Chrome, and of course the old Android Firefox.

Oh, and what happened to the Downloads list? (This is being fixed.)

Now, some pesky Nits. These are first world problems, I'll grant, but my muscle memory was used to them and getting people onto a new version of the browser shouldn't upset so many of these habits:

When I tapped on the URL to go to a new site, I used to see all my top sites, so I could just switch to them with a touch. Now there's just a whole lot of empty space (or maybe it offers to paste in a URL left over in the clipboard). I have to open a new tab, or partially type the URL, to get to a top site or bookmark. This might be getting fixed, too, but the description of exactly what's getting fixed is a little ambiguous. Related to this, if you enable search suggestions then they dominate the list of suggestions even if it's obvious you're typing part of a domain name you usually visit. In the old browser these were grouped, so it was easy to avoid them if you weren't actually searching.

I often open articles in private browsing mode, and then tap the back button to go to the regular tab I spawned it from. This doesn't work anymore; I have to either switch tab "stacks" or swipe away the private tab.

Anyway, that's enough whining.

I don't really want to have to go back to the old Firefox for Android. I think the new version has a lot to recommend it, and plus I really despise reading bug reports in TenFourFox where the filer drops a bug bomb on my head and then goes back to the previous version. Seriously, I hate that: it screams "I don't care, wake me when you fix it" (whether or not it's really my bug) and says they don't have enough respect even to test a fix, let alone write one.

So I'm sticking with Firefox Daylight, warts and all. But, for all its improvements, Daylight needs work and definitely not at a time when Mozilla has fewer resources to devote to it. I've got fewer resources too: still trying to work on TenFourFox and keep Firefox working right on OpenPOWER, and now I may have to start doing PRs on the Android browser if I want that fixed also. It just feels like everything's a struggle these days and this upgrade really shouldn't have been.


  1. I kinda agree with you. For me most of the issues I have are related to the UX/UI aspect which I honestly find quite poor. I wonder how this changes may be pushed without a QA check.

    On the TFF side instead, do you have any to-do list for future development that we can check somewhere? Maybe with vague estimation of release dates?

    Thank you for the great work you are doing here.

    1. What's really good about the article is that it goes into specific things that could be improved and how.

      Unfortunately just saying "it's poor", isn't helpful in focusing people on exactly what needs fixed and how to do it.

  2. I completely agree with you. I've decided to use both old Firefox Android and new (old as my main browser, new for sites I'm happy to trial it with).

    "This might be getting fixed". I hope so. The previous behaviour was pretty darn good. Compact, efficient and well thought out. Blank screens, not so much.

    "Related to this, if you enable search suggestions then they dominate the list of suggestions" <-- A thousand times this. I was hoping the old mobile behaviour would be implemented in desktop (with additional shortcut keys: down/up arrow to cycle through history, right/left arrow to cycle through keywords), but they went the other way! One feels so powerless when this kind of thing happens.

    In general, they tossed out a lot of really nice compact and efficient UI (that was neither too small/cluttered nor too large/empty). Another example is the loss of two column tab lists.

    Anyway, I'll wait it out. There are some nice things there, as you noted, just not enough to compensate. I'm not rewarding what I consider a significantly inferior experience with my daily patience, but I'm going to be positive and optimistic that things will be improved. I guess I have to --- a thousand browsers never bloomed.

  3. I suspect they've shelved the FF filer for now as Farce Book have been using it as a permissions exploit to take happy snaps of their users. (what? you have 3 accounts to circumvent our politically correct silencing team?) #1984 Memory hole B**tards


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