About a year ago, I wrote a post about how I prefer Mozilla’s Firefox web browser over Google’s Chrome browser as well as a few things it would take to get me to switch (and what Firefox should do to defend against that).
With the launch of Firefox 4 and Chrome 11 Beta, I decided now was as good a time as any to revisit that decision. I had been using the Firefox 4 beta’s and release candidates for several months and had been quite impressed by the improvements in speed. So, for the past two weeks I used the Chrome 11 beta exclusively – and the verdict? I have decided to switch browsers.
Shocked? I definitely was.
And, just as I did with my comparison of the DROID2 and the iPhone 4, I will make a long list of comparisons:
- The speed advantage that Chrome has over Firefox 4, at least on my Windows 7 machines, is overrated. Firefox 4 is much faster than its predecessor. While there’s still an observable difference in startup time, the gap between the two, in my mind, has been narrowed, and it was literally not something that affected the quality of my browsing experience. Slight advantage to Chrome
- I found I didn’t need browser history sync as much as I thought I did. As part of an effort to maintain work-life balance, I have a separate work computer from my personal computer. However, because my work oftentimes involves research in my “spare time”, its oftentimes useful for my work computer to know what I did at home and vice-versa – in fact this was a point I brought up when I previously compared Chrome to Firefox. Over the past two weeks of using solely Chrome, I realized that jotting notes in apps like Springpad and Google Tasks was really all I needed beyond Chrome’s natural ability to sync bookmarks and passwords, and that the lack of full browser sync actually did not interfere with my ability to be productive across both my computers. Slight advantage to Chrome
- The Chrome Tweetdeck app wound up being a killer use case for me. While Google’s Chrome Web Store deserves a lot of the criticism that its little more than a collection of bookmarks, popular Twitter client Tweetdeck has one of the rare “apps” on the site which is actually app-like. While I find that the app itself doesn’t stay stable if it stays on for longer than half a workday, it uses a lot less memory and is a lot faster to start than the Adobe AIR version of Tweetdeck I had been using before, and, given the amount of time I spend on Twitter, this became a very compelling reason to use Chrome. Strong advantage to Chrome
- Chrome’s notifications system makes it very easy to keep web applications running in the background. I was somewhat surprised at how useful this feature wound up being – but the latest versions of Chrome support desktop notifications which allow you to see at the corner of your screen an indicator if a new email, Tweet, or instant message is waiting you. This form of notification makes it more convenient to run web applications as you no longer have to constantly check the application to see if anything has happened. Strong advantage to Chrome
- Chrome’s bookmark management is “good enough.” One browser feature I relied on very heavily in Firefox was keyword searching/keyword browsing. In a nutshell, instead of searching for “Harvard” on Wikipedia, I simply type into the address bar: “w Harvard” – with ‘the latter ‘w’ being the keyword I assigned to the Wikipedia search engine. I’ve made similar associations across all the major web sites and search engines I use. Chrome, sadly, makes it difficult to do anything with keyword searching and browsing (keyword browsing requires you to treat the link as if it were a keyword search), but its not impossible – making my browsing experience on the browser actually palatable. Weak advantage to Firefox.
- Internal PDF capability. This is again one of those functions that you don’t realize its useful until you actually use it. As I read a fair number of white papers and investor presentations, I used to find myself constantly frustrated by the time it would take to load Adobe’s PDF reader in another browser. Google made a very smart call to integrate the PDF reading functionality straight into the browser. Advantage for Chrome.
- One of the main reasons I stuck with Firefox for so long was because of its rich ecosystem of addon/extension developers. However, in recent times the breadth and quality of Chrome extensions has improved (Slight advantage for Chrome):
- Many of the important, highest-value extensions (i.e. Adblock, Greasemonkey, etc) are now available across both browsers
- The majority of Firefox’s extensions require a full browser reboot to install. The majority of Chrome’s extensions can actually be installed without a reboot! This makes it easier for users to install more extensions and test out the platform.
- Because Chrome is a Google project, many of the first and most interesting extensions come from Google. This makes it easier for Chrome users who are active users of other Google products and services to do things like check how many items are left unread in Google Reader, see how many missed calls/text messages were received via Google Voice or quickly jump to the relevant part of a page that turns up in a Google search. In my case, the ability to quickly use Google Translate, Google Voice, Google Reader, and Chrome-to-Phone (sending URLs from a computer to a mobile device) made this a very easy choice.
- Developer tools: My old roommate and good friend Eric and I had a good back-and-forth back when I did my first browser comparison about the relative merits of Firefox’s main development tool Firebug and Chrome/Safari’s Webkit Inspector. I think it boils down to a stylistic preference, but I strongly prefer Firebug over Chrome’s developer toolset: for me, I’m more accustomed to the controls and I find it easier to use when I’m looking into or experimenting on an existing page. Advantage for Firefox (although subjective)
A quick tally above shows that there are a lot of specific reasons I identified to pick Chrome – and hence why I switched. Now, to be 100% open, I am continuing to maintain my Firefox 4/Firebug install so that I can continue to use the tool I prefer to manipulate webpages on-the-fly, but the comparison above gave me a pretty clear reason to switch browsers.