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What it will take to get me to switch to Chrome

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Firefox. But, given Firefox’s slow start-time and Google’s Chrome browser’s recently announced support for extensions, I did a recent re-evaluation of my browser choice. Although I’ve chosen to stick with Firefox, the comparison of the two browsers is now much closer than its ever been before to the point where I think, if the pace of Chrome development continues, I could actually switch within a few months. What I would need are:

  • Full browser synchMozilla Weave is probably the most important extension in my Firefox install. Weave provides a secure and fast method for me to have the same set of bookmarks, browser history, passwords, and preferences between every copy of Firefox that I run (i.e. on my work computer vs. on my personal computer). This has made it easier for me to not only continue research between browser sessions, but also to quickly get up to productivity on any computer with a working Firefox installation. While Chrome now supports bookmark synchronization, the lack of a history or a secure password synch makes it harder for me to have the same degree of flexibility that I have with Firefox. What’s ironic, though, is that a few years ago, I was very reliant on Google’s Browser Synch Firefox extension to do the same thing, and found Firefox to be a lot less flexible when Google stopped updating it. But, this historical precedent means I’m relatively confident it should be easy for Google to introduce a similar feature for Chrome.
  • A Firebug-like web development tool – Chrome has a lot of useful web development tools but, up until now, I have yet to see a platform built into Chrome (or any other browser) which has the same level of sophistication and feature set as Firefox’s Firebug extension. For most people, this isn’t that relevant, but as someone who’s done a fair amount of web development in the past and expect to continue to do so in the future, the lack of something as versatile and easy-to-use as Firebug is a big downside to me. With the opening up of Chrome to extension developers, I’m hopeful that it will only be a matter of time until something comparable to Firebug is developed for Chrome
  • Extensions to replicate the Greasemonkey hacks I use -Another Firefox extension which I’ve come to rely heavily on is Greasemonkey. It’s a bit difficult to explain how Greasemonkey works to someone who’s never used it, but what it basically does is allow you to install little scripts which can add extra functions to your Firefox browsing experience. These scripts can be found on repositories like Userscripts. Some scripts I’ve become attached to include Google Image Relinker (which lets me go straight to an image from Google Images and skip the intermediary site), LongURL Mobile Expander (which lets me see where shortened URLs, like those from TinyURL or, are actually pointing), and Friendfeed Force Word Wrap (which forces word wrap on improperly formatted Friendfeed entries). Because most of these are pretty minor browser modifications, I am hopeful that these functions will emerge when Chrome’s extension developer community gets large enough.
  • Advanced web standard support – I think its pretty odd that despite being a major proponent of the HTML5 standard and new rich browser technologies like WebGL and Native Client, that Chrome has yet to truly distance itself from its browser peers in terms of support for these new standards. True, the technologies themselves are still under development and very few websites exist which support them, but a differentiated level of support for these new technologies would give me a whole set of reasons to pick Chrome over its browser peers, especially given the direction I expect the rich web to move.

Now, in the off chance someone from Mozilla is reading this, what could Mozilla do to keep me firmly in the Firefox camp?

  • Faster release cycle – It’s difficult to maintain a constant technological edge when your software is open source, but a faster release cycle will help prolong the advantages that the Mozilla ecosystem currently have like a strong extension and theme developer community, a large user base, and a rich set of experimental projects (like Weave and JetPack and Ubiquity).
  • Faster startup time – I appreciate that my startup speed issues with Firefox may be entirely due to the fact that I have hefty extensions like Greasemonkey and Weave installed, but given that my current build of Chrome has some 16 extensions (including the Chrome version of AdBlock and Google Gears) and still loads much faster than Firefox, I believe that significant opportunity for memory management and start-time improvement still exists within the Firefox code base.
  • Better web app integration – The Chrome browser was clearly designed to run web applications. It makes it easy to load individual applications in their own windows and to set up web applications as default handlers for specific file types and events. While Firefox has come a long way in terms of its advanced web technology support, I don’t feel that enough attention has been dedicated to making the web application experience nearly as seamless. Whether this means an overhaul of the Prism project or a new way of handling browser events, I’m not sure, but this is a direction where the gap between Chrome and Firefox can and should be closed.
  • Firefox everywhere – I have been painfully disappointed in the slow roll-out of the Fennec mobile Firefox project. In a world where Safari, Opera, and Internet Explorer all have fully functioning mobile browsers, there’s no reason Firefox should be behind in this arena. Fennec also makes the Firefox value proposition more compelling with Weave as a means of synchronizing settings and bookmarks between the two.
  • More progress on experimental UI – I have been an enormous fan of the innovations in browser use which I consider to be pioneered by Mozilla – tabbed browsing, extensions, browser skinning, the “awesome bar”, etc. One way for Mozilla to stay ahead of the curve, even if they are only “on par” along other dimensions with their peers, is to continue to push on progress in the Mozilla Labs research projects like Ubiquity and JetPack, or a smarter way to integrate Yahoo Pipes!, or something akin to Cooliris’s technology (to throw out a few random ideas).
  • Advanced web technology support – Ditto as with the Google Chrome comment above.

With all of this said, I’m actually fairly happy that there are so many aggressive development efforts underway by the browser makers of our era. It looks like the future of the web will be an interesting place!

(Image credit) (Image credit – Greasemonkey) (Image credit – Fennec)

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  1. I'm considering the move from Safari to Chrome myself. My needs are much simpler, as I'm just waiting on the standard bookmark manager feature, which is not enabled/implemented in the mac beta or latest dev build.

    I haven't heard of Mozilla Weave before, but it seems really useful and something that all browsers should start integrating into their core functionality. Google's “Web History” tool has helped me on a number of occasions where I'd look up old search results that I'd have no other way to find otherwise.

    I'm all for a Firebug for Chrome (and all other browsers for that matter). All these different browsers and browser versions are becoming a headache. Actually a week or two ago, I even found some rendering discrepancies between Chrome for Windows and Chrome for Mac regarding z-indexing.

    Browsers should have an expiration date.

  2. With regards to Firebug (I haven't tried it, so I don't have a feature-by-feature comparison), you do realize that Chrome has a Web Inspector that has many of the capabilities of Firebug (the inspector comes with the WebKit framework, so it's already in Safari as well). Just right-click on any element while in Chrome and choose “Inspect Element”. You can profile, edit, debug, and execute JavaScript on the fly, browse and edit the DOM/HTML and CSS, browse and profile page resources and HTTP requests, and also examine HTML5 local databases.

  3. I can vouch for the web developer tools being more than enough for what you do on the web. I do miss weave history sync though (been trying to move passwords onto lastpass so don't care about password sync anymore).

  4. Yeah, I've tried using Web Inspector on a few occasions. Perhaps I've just gotten too accustom to the way Firebug works. Like with the 'inspect' tool, I like how Firebug highlights the different page elements as you hover over them, instead of having to click around manually to associate the UI with code elements.

    And I find Firebug's on-the-fly editing a bit more user friendly. For example, when editing css, the properties and values are edited separately, where in Web Inspector they're edited as one piece.

    Meh, I'm just being picky. I'll give Web Inspector another shot. 🙂

  5. Ben Ben

    I'm with Joe, the interface is “clunky”

  6. I find both interfaces equally clunky in their own ways. I do agree with Joe about the quirks in Web Inspector, but in terms of overall UI quality and polish, and for browsing elements, Web Inspector blows Firebug out of the water.

    For example, at least for me, if I highlight an element in Firebug and scroll with two-finger scrolling or my mouse scroll wheel, the outline box doesn't shift with the page correctly. If the sidebar containing style properties in the HTML view is too narrow, the text starts overlapping. Firebug's “Net” panel's time measurements don't have tick marks for time as Web Inspector does, making each timebar's subdivisions a little less useful. Web Inspector lets you re-root the HTML code blocks, so that instead of having everything in a deep hierarchy be scrunched up against the right side, I can just double-click a node and have it show me just that subtree. Also, I like the way the Web Inspector's highlighting looks better. 😛

    On the other hand, Firebug has, as Joe said, the Inspect Element feature (Web Inspector's seems buggy) and a better CSS and HTML editor. Web Inspector makes it a little tricky right now for CSS, not because of the separate property/value fields (which I actually don't mind), but because it's a little screwy to add new properties to existing elements. You have to add a semi-colon manually and enter a new one, which is not so elegant a solution. Also, you can't tab forward to edit other things in Web Inspector as you can in Firebug; you have to doubleclick on the thing you want to edit, which is stupid.

    I think it depends on what you need. Web Inspector is better at browsing the elements and getting a broad sense of things, while Firebug is better for editing your page in the browser itself.

    Plus, I just despise Firefox, which has an ugly UI and is the slowest browser on the Mac by far. 😛 Chrome is nice, but I currently don't see much of an advantage over Safari.

  7. Ben Ben

    Perhaps I was a little too quick to discount WebKit's Web Inspector tool, but while I recognize the value of the features you've just described, I still think Firebug is a superior tool — if only because I'm far more used to it (and because I like a functioning inspect element, other little interface quirks, and the fact that a couple of projects have released extensions on top of Firebug). As for the Firefox on Mac thing — I'm totally with you. I think it's got a ways to go before it can credibly displace Safari on a UI and speed basis.

  8. […] 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). […]

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