Firefox’s PDF disaster

I recently wrote about the queasy feeling I felt when Firefox began spontaneously trying to display PDFs inline. I’ve held my fire until now to give Mozilla a chance to fix the mess. But I’m wondering if Mozilla realize how bad the problem is. Most PDFs (probably about 70% but I’ve given up counting) do not render correctly. A nice warning appears. Fonts are screwed up. The other day, I made the mistake of trying to print…and go home within the hour! That’s the last time I’ll ever try to do that. The same PDF was printed in less than a minute by And the fonts were correctly rendered too!

The problem is that, by switching this PDF option “on” by default, overriding any existing user preferences, Mozilla makes Firefox look incompetent. It makes Firefox look incapable of displaying simple documents. Users tend to rather dislike incompetence, especially if previous workflows were robust. No PDF viewers are perfect, but the agility of Preview makes in-browser viewing rather unnecessary. Adobe Acrobat Reader is a horror, but it generally works.

These days, Firefox provides little by way of unique functionality. Search plugins are one feature that I still use a lot, but relying on Flash for videos was the first major fork in the road where Firefox took the wrong turn. The latest disaster with PDF display is almost the final straw. It’s a web-browser. Just try to make a good browser! Video is a big part of the web, but PDFs are not, any more than a spreadsheet is. I don’t know how features get the go-ahead in Firefox. But whatever the system is, the mistakes are starting to stack up, and Firefox is running on borrowed time.


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