Monday, May 10, 2010

Google Chrome browser

I've been a Firefox browser user for quite some time - gosh, it must be at least five or six years at this point. But a month or so ago, I read something that convinced me that I should give Google Chrome another chance. From the beginning, Google has claimed that Chrome was more stable because of it's architecture; each new browser tab is its own process, so crashing one will not, in theory, crash all of them (they even made a virtual comic book about it to explain it better). The article I read said that Chrome has made some strides in speed over the other browsers, and I had been increasingly dissatisfied particularly with startup time in Firefox. Chrome also recently (finally) started supporting extensions, which are a favorite feature of Firefox, so I decided to dip my toes in and give it a try!

First I had to try and find some extensions that resembled the ones I use every day on Firefox. I had been using Echofon as my Twitter client; I didn't find anything I was happy with as a Twitter client, but eventually I tried out the desktop version of TweetDeck and now I use it instead (I even uninstalled Echofon from Firefox). I installed the Chrome version of Shareaholic (which, incidentally, I like better than the Firefox version... come on, guys, let's implement that "save your services in the cloud" thing on Firefox!) and WiseStamp, and both were wonderful. The Chrome version of Xmarks is also terrific. I couldn't find a direct port of Gmail Notifier, which is a staple for me, so I tried Google's tray app (ew) and finally discovered the excellent Chrome extension One Number which not only notifies of new Gmail messages, but also handles notifications for Google Reader, Google Voice, and Google Wave. Nice!

On the whole, I was able to find Chrome extensions that either are the same thing as Firefox extensions, or have basically the same functionality. The one cross-browser extension that I was really disappointed in was iMacros. The Firefox version is pretty solid, and in fact I use it almost every day, but the Chrome version (which, to be fair, is still in beta) is slow and buggy. I actually had to resort to opening up Firefox whenever I needed to use iMacros... not high praise for their Chrome development efforts.

Another thing I use quite extensively on Firefox is called "search shortcuts". If I type g Google Chrome into my browser URL bar, it's the same as if I loaded up and typed Google Chrome into the search box. If I type gn Google Chrome instead, it looks it up on Google News. Setting this up in Firefox is incredibly easy (if you don't know how, check this link for details), and it uses regular bookmarks, which means that my search shortcuts get synchronized through Xmarks so I only have to set them up once for many installations of Firefox. It is possible to set up something similar in Chrome, but it is convoluted and it does not use regular bookmarks, so you have to set it up on each installation of Chrome. That was my first sign that Chrome might not work out for me.

My next indicator came on my underpowered old machine at home. The first time I tried Chrome, the day it was first released, I found it too memory-hungry to run reliably on a computer without gobs of memory for it to chow down on. I discovered that things haven't gotten much better; eventually I had to quit using Chrome on my home machine. I did keep using it at work, though, hoping that it would prove more stable than Firefox. Firefox is by no means a crashy browser, but it does crater every once in a while; I wanted to see if Chrome could best it in the stability department.

Once again I was disappointed. In my experience and with my usage patterns, Chrome seems to crash just about as often as Firefox... it just has its own special ways of crashing. And it's not at good at recovering my session when I restart it, either. With Firefox, when I crash usually I get most or all of my tabs back when I restart; with Chrome that rarely works, even though it's supposed to. In addition, Chrome doesn't seem to like to be left alone for any amount of time; if I left it running for an hour and went to lunch, often when I tried to use it again it would be non-responsive.

Yesterday I gave up on Chrome and went back to using Firefox everywhere. Except for a few extensions that I liked a lot on Chrome and which aren't available for Firefox, I couldn't really find anything about Chrome that would give it an advantage. Firefox is a solid, mature browser with lots of functionality and a large user base; Chrome is a fairly young browser with some style and flash, but not as much substance behind the glamor as I had hoped. I wish Chrome the best, and maybe at some point I'll give it another spin, but for now, I'm still a Firefox fan.