The default browser in Windows has a feature called “autoscroll” which makes scrolling in web pages using the middle mouse button very convenient. It also has a convenient single-keystroke shortcut for going back to the previous page: backspace. Firefox on Windows offers this same behavior.
Firefox on Linux behaves very differently. Despite the fact that Linux is now a modern desktop operating system (theoretically usable by “normal people”), many of its applications stick to archaic conventions, presumably to avoid irritating long-time users. Autoscroll and backspace-goes-back are both disabled by default on Linux, and can only be enabled by toggling hidden preferences in the
about:config feature (which presents the user with a scary warning before allowing them in). I don’t really know why the backspace feature is disabled, but autoscroll is probably disabled because in the past it may have conflicted with an archaic feature that also used the middle mouse button: contentLoadURL. contentLoadURL was a dangerous feature, which would attempt to use whatever you had copied to your clipboard as a URL whenever you middle-clicked. I call it “dangerous” because with the advent of tabbed browsing middle-clicking went from something done rarely to something done all the time – and any time you missed a link you were trying middle-click you’d end up on some random page (or an alert would pop up, telling you you’re trying to load an invalid location). Fortunately this horrible feature is disabled by default nowadays, but autoscroll still hasn’t been enabled.
One might argue that following conventions is good, but conventions on Linux are tricky; you can follow archaic conventions from the days when users were expected to understand the differences between PRIMARY and CLIPBOARD, or you can follow conventions that 99% of computer users nowadays are used to.
While all of this is clearly Firefox’s fault and there are plenty of other browsers to choose from, Firefox is the default browser and the only reasonable choice (many websites block browsers other than Microsoft Internet Explorer and Firefox, and others render incorrectly in other browsers).
The solution to this, by the way, is to go to the URL
about:config and set browser.backspace_action to 0 and general.autoScroll to true. You may also want to set browser.urlbar.doubleClickSelectsAll to false to get more Windows-like behavior.
Update Oct 12: Using the default Ubuntu theme and Gnome options, the tab strip doesn’t have enough empty space. It’s nearly impossible to drag links between two existing tabs because the target area is extremely small (you always end up dropping things on an existing tab), and it’s also impossible to double-click empty space to create a new tab (there is no “empty space” that I can find).