Should You Use Firefox Forks?

Firefox Featured

Mozilla Firefox is an open source browser which allows anyone to modify the code to create a “fork” browser. Some of the popular forks include Waterfox, Comodo Ice Dragon, Pale Moon, Basilisk, Swiftfox, and TenFourFox. These forks, however, do not carry the seal of approval of Mozilla.

If your only purpose is ordinary web browsing, there is nothing wrong with these alternative browsers. After all, Chromium forks are extremely common, and Google Chrome itself is one among many “forks” based on the original Chromium Project. However, with Mozilla it is different. That is why you have to ask the following questions before proceeding with another browser inspired by Mozilla Firefox.

1. Does the Fork Support All Extensions?

Mozilla Firefox has a rather extensive library of extensions which are really useful and often not found on Chrome. One such example is “Bypass Paywalls for Firefox” which can bypass several news websites. After trying with Comodo IceDragon browser, I was able to install the precise extension and achieve the same objective – bypassing news websites. It also supports the adjunct extension “ublock” which helps override paywall access permissions.

Comodo Icedragon Extensions

Clearly, with Comodo IceDragon, almost all Firefox extensions enjoy support across the new browser. With a Firefox account, one can seamlessly transfer all their add-on information and privacy settings. It is also true for Waterfox, which imports the Firefox extensions without any difficulties.

Waterfox Importing From Firefox

2. Does the Fork Support Firefox Configuration Tricks?

New Boolean Icedragon About Config

Firefox allows cool configuration tricks, such as handling JavaScript pop-ups or opening a new tab for search box results. We checked some of these configuration tricks with IceDragon as well as WaterFox. In the following screen the extensions were checked for compatibility with browsers. The configuration was set up without any problems, and it is safe to assume that IceDragon and WaterFox are compatible with Firefox configuration tricks.

3. Does the Fork Support Mozilla Security Updates?

firefoxpassword-security

This is one of the drawbacks of the fork browsers. Mozilla periodically introduces security updates and patches in Firefox. These are useful in preventing denial of service attacks, spoofing, and discouraging websites which track your browsing. While the forks support many of the older security features common to Mozilla Firefox, they cannot always keep with updates. Mozilla’s security updates are timely, and the forks might lag behind a bit. But they have their own security updates which may or may not be based on Mozilla Firefox.

4. Does the Fork Support Mozilla’s Privacy Measures?

Firefox WebRTC

Some privacy measures of Mozilla Firefox include preventing WebRTC attacks, disabling WebGL, allowing NoScript and self-destructing cookies. The commands and techniques work just as easily with forks including IceDragon, Waterfox and TenFourFox. You can enable almost the same degree of privacy controls with the forks as with Mozilla Quantum.

5. How Stable Are the Forks?

signs-computer-dying-sluggish-crashing

Some of the complaints about Mozilla Firefox were the frequent crashes and the browsers hanging up quickly. Luckily, with Quantum, many of those problems have indeed become a thing of the past. Comodo IceDragon and WaterFox are extremely stable browsers which are no more likely to crash than other browsers. Their recent versions import some of the scripts from Quantum which render greater stability and clear page downloads.

In Summary

We saw that at least a few forks which are based on Mozilla Firefox are really good browsers. Comodo IceDragon and Waterfox can be safely used as alternatives to Firefox. The only drawback is that you have to wait for the security update which may be delayed compared to regular Mozilla updates.

At the same time, a few forks, including Pale Moon and Basilisk, are somewhat outdated versions of Firefox and do not give the same results.

Are you using any of these alternative browsers, and do they satisfy you? Please let us know in the comments.

9 comments

  1. Not sure about the other forks but I have used Ice Dragon before. It’s a horrible browser that tries a bit too hard to resemble Firefox, and desperately fails. Simply replicating Firefox features isn’t enough in my book. As you pointed out it’s all about the security. I would not trust the forks because there might be some Russian hackers sneaking behind the other side to steal my user data. It looks like a Yandex Ru promotional effort. There will never be any alternative to Mozilla Firefox, it is THE best browser ever since Netscape.

    1. Seriously Yandex Ru ? I bet you must be a regular at abovetopsecret dot com

      ” Simply replicating Firefox features isn’t enough in my book. There will never be any alternative to Mozilla Firefox, it is THE best browser ever since Netscape.”

      Well you’re right on the money with this one. Firefox still rules and all the other browsers suck these days. I bet it’s the multimedia and HTML5. Why do they have to go overboard with the fancy pixels?

      Here’s my opinion. Don’t use the forks. Period. Because they make it so difficult to scroll. While you’re at it kindly spare me the bright color schemes and pixelated graphics.

      Firefox Forever. If you hate Firefox, you hate me!

    2. Stephen

      I don’t think IceDragon has anything to do with Yandex Ru or Russian hackers. But I can appreciate the nostalgia and sentiment behind Firefox.

      Duncan: “Firefox Forever. If you hate Firefox, you hate me!”

      Rock on, man! Debating Firefox is like debating a Metallica fan; they’re convinced they are absolutely the best. But you should still check Dragonmouth’s comment below. He makes a valid point about PaleMoon: one of the Firefox forks.

  2. “We saw that at least a few forks which are based on Mozilla Firefox are really good browsers. ”
    Not a “few”, only two. Did you test the other forks, also?

    “1. Does the Fork Support All Extensions?”
    Why ask if the forks support all Firefox extensions when Firefox Quantum itself does support all the extension that the previous Firefox did. Off the top of my head I can think of two, FEBE which did a backup of all FF configuration and settings files and an extension that checked for and deleted duplicate bookmarks. When Mozilla released Quantum for general use, they warned that many FF extension will no longer work with it. It has been a while now and none of the deactivated extension have been updated and re-activated, or replaced with new ones with similar functions. So the question becomes “Should You Use Firefox?”

    “4. Does the Fork Support Mozilla’s Privacy Measures?”
    What privacy measures?! Firefox leaves a lot to be desired on the privacy front. It uses Google’s Safe Browsing which means that when you visit any site with Firefox, Firefox queries Google’s Safe Browsing servers to check if Google approves of it or not. Every query of Google’s servers is logged by Google. So Google has your complete browsing history. Not very private of Mozilla Firefox. OTOH, PaleMoon does not use Safe Browsing. In fact, if you search PaleMoon’s about:config file, you will only find two entries with “google” in them. If you search Firefox’s about:config file, you will get couple of screens full of “ggogle” entries.

    1. Well I could not have possibly checked for all Firefox extensions but if the fork is supporting the current ones in Quantum, it should be considered an achievement. I agree with you that Firefox abandoned a few extensions since Quantum but at least they’re still going strong in a Chrome-dominated era.

      “Not a “few”, only two. Did you test the other forks, also?”

      Let’s just say I have an eagle eye. IceDragon and Waterfox are the only forks worth a mention because how nicely they resemble Quantum. But people are having beef with Quantum itself. You’re not alone there. Strange because I never liked the old Firefox much: Quantum is way faster.

      “OTOH, PaleMoon does not use Safe Browsing. In fact, if you search PaleMoon’s about:config file, you will only find two entries with “google” in them. If you search Firefox’s about:config file, you will get couple of screens full of “ggogle” entries.”

      That’s a new one. You mentioned an important security detail of PaleMoon; perhaps because it resembles Firefox 3+? It does not send any cookie data to ad companies. It seems it does not rely on Google too much. But what if you were using DuckDuckGo?

      For older Firefox fans, I am willing to concede that PaleMoon is a better fork from a privacy point of view.

      1. ” But what if you were using DuckDuckGo?”
        What if you were using DuckDuckGo AND PaleMoon as I do?

        I’ve been using FF since almost its beginning, when it was known as Phoenix. I tried Midori and Arora but they just do not have the features analogous to those in FF. PaleMoon, while it is not as feature-rich as FF, does what I need. The non use of Safe Browsing is a big plus in its favor.

        “Quantum is way faster.”
        My setup is close to 10 years old. Quantum may be optimized for the more recent CPUs and GPUs. I did not notice any speed difference between the “old” Firefox and Quantum. When Quantum was released into the wild, I went from “old” FF to Quantum literally in a span of maybe 10 minutes. Synaptic notified me that there was a new version of FF so I ran the update. At the end of the update, Firefox notified me that in order for the new version to take full effect, it will have to restart. I let it restart and then proceeded with my browsing. No other changes, same machine, same app mix, no noticeable difference in speed. The only difference was that a few of my extensions were disabled. (They still haven’t been upgraded to work with Quantum and no comparable ones have been developed)

        1. Just turn off Safe Browsing in Firefox. Easy.

          1. What is that supposed to accomplish?

            BTW – I do have SafeBrowsing disabled.

  3. I’ve been using Pale Moon for years and find it completely stable. It seems to be more concerned with my privacy than others.

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