Who doesn’t love Firefox? I’ll tell you who, Mac users. While Firefox has always been great on Windows and Linux, it seems that the Mac version of the browser has always lagged behind in terms of performance and visual appeal. Since version 1.5, the Firefox development team has been paying more attention to the Mac version of the browser, slowly increasing its speed. The upcoming Firefox 2.0 continues those tweaks, finally making Firefox fast enough to be considered usable. That leaves just one problem with Firefox for Mac, the appearance. Luckily thanks to some third-party developers, Firefox can easily be tweaked to fit in with the operating system.
One of the first problems you’ll notice with the appearance of Firefox is it’s quite ugly compared to the rest of the operating system. The toolbar buttons look like crap, the tabs suck, and everything feels bulky. This is the first thing we’ll want to improve, and is probably the easiest. To improve the look of Firefox, just download the GrApple theme. The theme has several options to choose from; everything from Brushed Metal to a version compatible with the popular UI enhancer, UNO. If you’re using the Firefox 2.0 Beta, there is even a version for you (look at the sidebar).
The next visual issue you’ll run into with the Mac version of Firefox is the buttons. The buttons and other form elements aren’t very Mac like. They’re basically Windows-style buttons trapped inside a Mac world. Thankfully, Philippe Wittenberg wasn’t happy with the Firefox “widgets” and created a set of his own. While they certainly aren’t up to the high standards of Safari and Camino, they’ll easily be able to tide you over until Firefox gets its own Cocoa widgets in version 3.0.
Firefox 2.0 Beta Users: Only use Firefoxy to install the pretty widgets. Any other method seems to total the Firefox installation.
Easier Tab Closing
It seems that every Mac browser likes to place the tab close button on the actual tabs instead of off to the side. If you want to follow that path, completely mastering the Mac look, you’ll want to install Tab X. Tab X is a Firefox extension which will remove the close button on the end of the tab bar and add individual close buttons to each tab.
Now if you’re using Firefox 2.0 Beta, you’ll see that you won’t need this extension. The next version of Firefox places the tab close button on every tab, following suit with the rest of the Mac’s browsers.
If you’ve done all of the previous visual improvements, you should now have a browser which blends in with the Mac interface. If for some reason you still aren’t satisfied with Firefox for Mac, you’ll want to download an optimized build. While this will do nothing to improve the look, it will certainly speed up the browser, giving Firefox that extra edge.
Play the Waiting Game
If the optimized builds still aren’t selling you on Firefox, you can always wait a little. Firefox version 3.0 will be written in Cocoa, Apple’s programming toolkit of choice. This will greatly enhance the speed of Firefox, and will bring improved visuals to the Mac version, such as the widgets I mentioned earlier.
While you wait, you might want to check out Camino. While Camino lacks severely when it comes to extendability, it does have the Cocoa visual appearance and speed. Combine that with the Gecko rendering engine, and you have Firefox for Mac minus some features and extensions. That should tide you over for a while.
Update: Ammonkc has made me aware of two great extension which will continue to bring that Mac/Safari experience to Firefox. Fission makes the address bar a progress indicator, and Stop-or-Reload Button combines the Stop and Refresh buttons into one.
Also, there is an alpha version of Firefox 3.0 with Cocoa widgets out now. It only supports Intel Macs and is probably very buggy, but it’s there if someone wants to play with it.