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1 post from March 2010

Why I'm not switching to Chrome

I seem to find myself in somewhat of a minority these days; whether that is true or just how it feels I don't know, but it looks like a lot of the 'crowd' are switching to Google's browser, Chrome, while I'm lagging behind with Firefox.

I feel a bit like I did back in 2004 when Firefox first came out (and was called Firebird). I swore I'd never leave IE6 - I was happy with it, it did everything I wanted and I didn't want to change my ways just because someone said somewhere that IE might be rubbish. Of course, I was convinced eventually - the main deciding factor was the tabbed browsing and the fact that I could open all my daily bookmarks just by middle-clicking a folder or selecting "open all in tabs". After switching I discovered just what a headache IE was and how stupid I had been to be so in love with it :P

So am I just in denial again this time and standing by Firefox because I am too stubborn to switch to the new cool kid in town? I don't think so, this time. Don't get me wrong, Chrome is a great browser - I have it and use it every now and then.

Things I like about Chrome:

  1. Speed
    You can't deny that Chrome is very fast, and Firefox's increasing bloat is really noticeable next to it. Chrome starts immediately on my PC whereas Firefox takes about 30-40 seconds. It takes a bit longer on the Mac but it's still faster than Firefox which again takes around 30 seconds to start. Both computers are of a similar spec and age, just in case you were wondering.

    The other speed factor is the more up-to-date JavaScript engine included in WebKit (the rendering engine Chrome is based on) - AJAX queries are much faster in Chrome than they are in Firefox which is useful for JS-heavy websites.

  2. Resource usage
    Firefox is pretty heavy on the resource front. Right now I have 4 tabs open and Firefox is using a whopping 169MB of memory to run them. Opening the same 4 tabs in Chrome only takes up 91MB. Of course, the reasoning behind this may be simple - I've got far more extensions running in Firefox than I have in Chrome (I do have some in Chrome though, so it's not an out-of-the-box copy). However, I'm inclined to believe this isn't just to do with the extensions since I've heard of lots of people with no extensions having issues with stupid memory usage courtesy of Firefox.

    When I shut down Firefox, it takes aaaaages. I know it does things like backing up my bookmarks and saving my open tabs and sessions and whatever else, but so does Chrome and Chrome shuts down immediately. On the Mac I've also had odd issues with Firefox continually reopening itself whenever I shut it down as well... Never had that with Chrome.

  3. Themes
    Firefox has a great many themes available for it, and I've never really been a fan of the default so have always used one or another. They're ok, but they are a bit flakey in places - the theme I'm using at the moment doesn't theme dialogue boxes correctly so they look all squashed. It's not the first time I've experienced that either - perhaps just lazy theme makers.

    Firefox has recently introduced the concept of Personas - simple themes that plonk themselves on top of the default to give your browser a bit of a facelift. Easy to install and no restart needed (except for the installation of the original extension). Except... to use them, you need to be using the default theme, which as I said before, I'm not a fan of. Therefore, any persona looks horrible to me because it's on top of the icky default theme. I don't mind so much on the Mac which has a different default theme - in fact, I'm using Personas on my Mac copy of FF - but on Windows and Linux I don't think they really work with the default theme. Sorry Firefox. Chrome's themes are more like the Personas - they don't change much except add a background here and there and maybe change some colours, but some of them are really well made and I found a theme I fell in love with immediately. It really makes me want to use Chrome more since I really do like it. Not seeing anything similar for Firefox and even if I did, I don't think it would work too well since it seems centred on the way Chrome is actually laid out.

  4. Little things
    There are little things that annoy me about Firefox. The most annoying is when it randomly decides it won't load a page, even if I was just on it a moment ago. I have to go and empty the cache before it'll load again. Sometimes I just give up and open Chrome to view the page rather than fiddling about with caches :P I even tried reinstalling Firefox and removing my profile data to see if that helped - it didn't.

    Restarting to install extensions and themes really annoys me too. I know why I have to (it's the way FF works) but Chrome manages its extensions just fine without a restart and I can install a bunch of them and see how they work without having to wait ages (see point 1 above) for my browser to restart.

    There are other little niggles about Firefox that annoy me too - sometimes your bookmarks will all disappear; it'll crash and won't let you reopen it, claiming it's still running; it does weird stuff with saved usernames/passwords, capitalising parts it shouldn't... There's more, but if I can't think of them right now then they can't be that important.

Having said that though, there is one BIG reason why I will not be switching to Chrome, despite all the above - extensions. I use around 30 extensions at the moment and I find every one of them useful. Some of them are silly things like showing me the weather forecast or generating Lipsum, but others I could not live without (well, slight exaggeration. Maybe). Adblock Plus, NoScript and HTML Validator are just some of the extensions I use on a daily basis and which Chrome hasn't managed yet. Yes, it does have an Adblock extension and some sort of port of the others, but they just aren't as good. The fact that Chrome has no status bar means most of the extensions that have icons are bunched up into the toolbar, making my address bar smaller. I installed a few Chrome extensions and they all went into my toolbar - all 6 of them - and it makes it look cluttered and busy. In Firefox, most of the extensions sit nicely in the corner of the status bar which makes them non-intrusive and I can look at them quickly if I want to see their status or change an option.

There is a lot of community support for Chrome, but it isn't at all what Firefox has. Perhaps because Firefox has been around for about 6 years longer than Chrome - in 6 years we might have the same, if not more, community support for Chrome than Firefox, but it isn't the case now. You can Google anything to do with Firefox and find a way to do it - if you can't tweak about:config or find an extension for it, I'd be very surprised.

While I would love to use Chrome if it had the extensions I love from Firefox, I doubt they will implement a similar engine. Chrome is not Firefox and by making these extensions work with Chrome, will they not just be producing a clone (or 'lite' version) of Firefox? I would have thought that Google would want Chrome to be its own browser and not just a faster version of something already out there. Also, Google is unlikely to change its support for an Adblock or NoScript plugin since its own ads would be blocked by such things... Not a good idea for them.

There is also some rumour that Google collect everything you do on Chrome and use it to target ads at you or something (not read up on the details, I must admit). Not keen on that but it wouldn't deter me from switching if the extensions were better.

In short, I like Chrome... but I won't be switching. I'm happy to stay with my slow and bloated Firefox that has the extensions I know and love. Maybe I'll change my mind at some point, but not yet.