Thursday, June 5, 2014

Pale Moon: an alternative to the FireFox 29 interface mess

Like many, I recently rebooted my computer only to discover that FireFox had updated itself once again. This time, the changes were, at the very least, cosmetic. I don't mean they were small, however; rather, the browser looks quite different (uglier) and more important to me, it forces the use of tabs, something which I've managed to avoid for the last few years. Force as in the tab bar is always open whether you want it or not.

My options: downgrade to Firefox 28 (the old interface) knowing that security holes would no longer be patched, or look for another browser. Chrome is a great alternative if you like tabs, but my goal was one window per webpage, so I looked farther afield. Or closer, perhaps: I found Pale Moon, a browser based on Firefox 24, with (some) security fixes back-ported.

The Pale Moon advantages:
  • The same look as Firefox 28 (and older) - yay, I can avoid tabs again!
  • Optimized for more modern processors
  • Features I don't use have been removed, so it should be somewhat more lightweight
Sadly, the experience hasn't been that positive.  Most notably, I've found Pale Moon to be unstable - in two days it has crashed hard once, and misbehaved to the point of needing to be restarted another time. Make that three times - it crashed again while I was composing this post (Of course, that might have been an attempt at self-preservation).

Now to be fair, I've only used it on one machine - WinXP 64. Maybe it is more stable on another setup. But I'm not going to give it another chance. In part that's because of another issue: Pale Moon is based on Firefox source, so Firefox bugs are also PaleMoon bugs. Thus, while no malware is going to target PaleMoon specifically because of its minute market share, anything written to target older versions of FireFox will also hit Palemoon (because it's not updated as fast as Firefox).

In the end, it's a shame. The interface and the web page rendering engine should be entirely separable, so that you can choose the best renderer (which presumably would be the same for pretty much all users) and the best interface (according to your personal preferences, which will likely differ from other people's).  Then it would be easy to keep the renderer up to date, and still be perfectly safe using an obscure interface. Perhaps this is how things actually are in some low-level sense, but there's no way for me to drag and drop a new rendering DLL into the PaleMoon app folder and thus have the latest and greatest security fixes.

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