Monday 7 July 2008

Gmail misbehaving in Firefox 3 on Leopard

How to get back your lost GMail features on Firefox 3 on OS X

Having become more and more aware of how slow and bloated Firefox 2 had become, and having downloaded Firefox 3 on my Windows laptop at work and noticed a definite improvement in load time and CPU usage, I decided to follow suit and install Firefox 3 on my Mac Mini at home which is running OS X Leopard.

It worked fine for a while, then today something strange happened - I clicked my usual GMail link on the toolbar and found myself presented with the HTML only view of GMail and a big flash saying "For a better Google Mail experience use a fully supported browser".. wtf? Why would GMail not support Firefox 3?

I checked the provided link and confirmed that yes, GMail does support all versions of Firefox after 2.0. I clicked the "Mac" link on that very page and was told by Firefox's download page that "Mac OS 9 and earlier versions not supported". Since that page detects your system to give you the appropriate link, this suggests something is reporting my system as pre-OS X, and that is stopping Firefox and GMail from thinking they can support my operating system... How very bizarre.

I did some googling and while I did not solve the problem, I quickly found a workaround... all I needed to do was change my GMail links to point to:

which is a link through to GMail which skips the browser check. Using this link, GMail and other apps work fine. Which is a relief, as I thought I might have to revert back to using BonEcho (OS X custom builds of Firefox 2). I did download and try Minefield (OS X custom build of Firefox 3) but got the same error message saying I had an old version of OS X. So I've not seen a need to switch to Minefield yet.

Update 9 July: Just noticed a similar problem with Google Docs. In this case, the URL has to be changed to Very strange that these Google apps would suddenly break. I hope Google fix this! (or if it's something at my end, hope I can work out what!)

Update 14 July: I just got a similar message (unsupported browser) from Yahoo when using Flickr.. so it must be something in Leopard rather than anything on Google servers.

Update 8 Jan 09: This problem has continued to resurface. Google Docs for example does not seem to have any "don't check my browser" option. Determined to get to the bottom of this, I dug deeper. One thing I found is that on my Firefox About window it was reporting the browser as "undefined GoogleToolbarBB". This can be confirmed by typing the following into the address bar:

javascript:prompt("My userAgent is:", navigator.userAgent)

This led me to conclude two things - firstly that the problem relates to my browser misreporting itself, and maybe that it's something to do with a Google toolbar (which is odd, as I don't have one installed - but maybe it relates to the built in Google search box?). Anyway, pursuing this line of thought a colleague pointed me to the Firefox User Agent Switcher add-on, which allows you to change how your browser reports itself. I installed this and then found some correct settings for Firefox 3 on Leopard. I created a new profile in the add-on and set it up as follows:

(The rest of the line that is too long is just an o to make Gecko)

The good news is the problems seem to have stopped! So I have a much better workaround although I never really found the cause. I suspect a clean install without bring forward my profiles, settings, add-ons etc might solve the problem - but this is not something I want to try so I am happy with this workaround for now!

No doubt this problem will come and bite me again, so If anyone has any further ideas please let me know! But at least I have a workaround.

Alternative Google Bookmarks Add-On for Firefox 3 on OS X

While on the subject of Firefox 3 - I have found that almost all the add-ons I use are now available for Firefox 3, although for some reason the Google Bookmarks for Firefox add-on, which adds a handy menu to firefox to add & retrieve your bookmarks and have them the same on all your computers, is no longer available on the OS X version of Firefox 3 (although it is available on Windows).

This risked being a show stopper for me as that is my main way of using Bookmarks. Fortunately, I have found an equivalent add-on called Deng Google Bookmarks which does pretty much the same thing (although it looks slightly different).
Hopefully the Google Bookmarks for Firefox add-on will be available for Mac in future - but Deng does a good job in the meantime.

How to improve your GMail interface (and other Google tools) by enabling trial new features

Thought this might be a good opportunity to share a couple of other Google related tips.. Make sure you go into your GMail settings and set your language to US English (not UK English or any other language). This is because new features always get added first to the US English version - for example the RSS feed "Clips" along the top of your messages was added first on the US English version. More on the differences between UK & US versions here.

You can also enable even more features by adding GMail Labs to your account (article at Lifehacker).

You can do a similar thing in iGoogle to enable an experimental new interface, as detailed at Lifehacker here.

There are even experimental features for Google search itself!


Plaça de Catalunya said...

This article was incredibly helpful--thanks so much for helping other beleagured Mac users out!

Alex said...

Hi.. Glad you found it useful! Are you experiencing the same error message? I got it on Google Docs the other day too.. There's definitely something strange going on!

michael said...

Hey, thanks! This was very helpful. I've been using Firefox 3 in its beta on my MB Pro, but this problem only surfaced for me last week. No idea what that means...