Many people, me included, have used System Restore successfully. From what you are saying it could be you had some additional (non-Windows) software that was somehow corrupt which affected the ability of System Restore to function.
Can you really blame System Restore for some other software, possibly not directly associated with Windows, for preventing it to function?
In my limited experience, if IE causes, or has, a problem it closes but gives an indication of why. The obvious action then is to address that problem not go straight to Restore and expect it to solve everything for you. The same should apply to any other additional software.
As for `perhaps it's time I went over to Firefox?`, the choice is yours. I use Firefox because I like it better than IE and because all indications from posts and write ups are that it is more secure. However, you will still need IE on your system as it is used by Windows for other functions.