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Switching from Firefox to Chrome

[ Google Chrome ] I’ve used Firefox as my main browser for years. I’ve always known it to be fast and functional, but for some reason after version 3 or 4, things started getting not so good. For example, each major upgrade leaves me with fewer compatible extensions. And if you don’t remember to disable the auto-updates option, you may be stuck with your favorite extensions not working. I lost some great add-on functionality for the Fx4 -> Fx5 update, but continued using Firefox almost by force of habit.

Fighting Firefox

After however many months working with Fx5 and half of my extensions not working, Firefox did an auto-update to version 6. That wiped out another handful of add-ons, including a few that greatly improved my workflow. I looked into rolling back to Fx5 (or even 4), but it looked like a complete headache, so I cracked the whip and held fast with Firefox and half of my add-ons disabled due to incompatibility. As I worked with Fx6, I took advantage of the excellent tab-grouping functionality, but also noticed that performance seemed sluggish. I found myself clearing the browser and rebooting way too frequently, until it just got crazy and pages would take forever to load, even after disabling more add-ons. After fighting it for a few days, I finally called it quits with Firefox.

Switching to Chrome

I’ve been using Google’s Chrome as an alternate browser ever since it was first released as a PC/Win beta way back in September 2008. I played around with Chrome on my WinXP machine and really didn’t see what all the hype was about. Back then it was cool and fast, but really couldn’t match Firefox as a serious browser. So a few years later after switching to Mac, I started using Chrome for more than just random surfing and cross-browser testing. As Firefox began failing, Chrome proved to be a consistent, reliable browser that’s blazing fast. At some point, I realized it was time to retire Firefox and roll tuf with Chrome.

Customizing Chrome

Occasional surfing with Chrome is easy, but customizing for full-time use requires some time to get everything fine-tuned and dialed in. After importing my bookmarks and adjusting default browser settings, I went through my Firefox add-ons and found as many alternate Chrome add-ons that I could find. Surprisingly there were only a few extensions that I could not find for Chrome:

  • Colorful Tabs – not a huge deal, but I really got used to it on Firefox
  • Tab Mix Plus – provides further customization of tab behavior
  • HTML inline validator – a few choices, but nothing that just works
  • DownloadHelper – awesome for downloading just about any online video you can find

After searching and trying all sorts of possible alternatives to these Firefox add-ons, I finally threw in the towel and moved on with my life. Hopefully some of this stuff will be available soon. Also, although technically not an extension, Firefox’ Tab Grouping feature really is super-useful and improved my workflow considerably. So I would add it to the list, but there is a workable alternative which I discuss below.

Staring at Chrome with a confused look on my face

After several weeks using Chrome full-time (like all day, every day), I’ve noticed a few weird things that it does differently than.. well, just about any browser you care to name. Here are some examples of default functionality that could be better in Chrome:

  • Set the default page for newly opened tabs – This is my biggest gripe: why do I need to run two different add-ons just to set the default page that opens for new tabs? It’s just weird.
  • The bookmark manager kinda sucks – I was disappointed to see (and use) Chrome’s two-dollar bookmark script. Needs some serious work, or a good add-on replacement.
  • Text highlighting – feels sloppy in Chrome. For example, try to highlight a line of text and the highlight background blue color stretches all the way to bottom of the element. Not a big deal, but worth mentioning because it’s probably an easy fix.
  • Deeply nested options – IMHO some of the options and settings are nested way too deeply. I think a few more top-level or 2nd-level buttons would help people access mission-critical settings much faster/easier.

Admittedly, these are relatively minor issues, except the default-page for new-tabs thing is both a serious flaw and complete mystery. Well, not really. We all know why big companies make decisions, but having to install two add-ons to emulate something Firefox can do so easily is just an embarrassment.

My List of Chrome Extensions

Gotta say up-front that my strategy is minimalistic, so I only install an extension if I absolutely must have it. Although it’s amazing that Chrome stays fast and light regardless of how many add-ons you throw at it. Firefox I think struggles when the number of add-ons starts to climb. That said, here are my currently active Chrome extensions:

  • 1Password Beta – add-on for the awesome 1password app
  • Chromium Delicious plugin – handles delicious bookmarks for Chrome
  • Eye Dropper – for grabbing colors from web pages
  • New Tab Redirect! – required to set the default page for new tabs
  • One Window – also required to set the default page for new tabs
  • TooManyTabs for Chrome – good alternative to Firefox’ Tab Grouping feature, providing a great way to streamline workflow
  • Validity – “Click the icon in the address bar or press Ctrl+Alt+V to validate the current page. Results can be seen in Chrome’s JS console.”

Amazingly, I get better functionality with Chrome using these eight extensions than I did with Firefox using 20 or more. With this handful of add-ons, I get a browser that’s responsive, intuitive, and blazing fast.

Other thoughts

I’ve really enjoyed using Firefox over the years, and will continue to use it as my “secondary” browser. It’s been a month now since switching and Chrome just keeps getting better. It’s fast, free, responsive, and has greatly streamlined my workflow. If you’re looking for an alternative to whatever browser you’re using, Chrome is it.

Jeff Starr
About the Author Jeff Starr = Fullstack Developer. Book Author. Teacher. Human Being.
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52 responses
  1. I think in firefox there’s an option to disable the compatibility check, in about:config somewhere…

  2. Michel Fortin September 15, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

    Jeff, you might want to try Chrome toolbox for tabs and a bunch of other great add-ons.

    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/fjccknnhdnkbanjilpjddjhmkghmachn

    And I also use Bookmark Sentry to manage my bookmarks:

    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/bdglbbcbmgnimogcmcdenggkpdmihlga

    FYI. Hope it helps.

  3. John Rocheleau September 15, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

    One add on I use quite a bit in FireFox is FireBug. As far as I know FireBug for Chrome is still just a “lite” version with less functionality. Also It can be a pain to use 3 clicks to clear your cache (as you say some functions are buried too deep), and I’ve had issues with it not loading a particular site here and there but seemed to solve that by changing the https/ssl settings (unchecked “use TLS 1”).

    Aside from those two issues and possibly how it updates it adobe flash, it’s been great. I prefer it over FireFox for its speed and clean more minimal feel.

    John

  4. Just like a few others here I am sticking with Firefox as long as Chrome doesn’t have Firebug. I just had a look at Stylebot, but I already know that that won’t cut it for me. Also what ships with Chrome (Inspect Element) to be used as some replacement of Firebug is a joke I think.

    I am however running 3 different versions of Firefox on my Mac as I too was afraid I’d loose functionality by incompatible addons. I still have 3.6, I have 4 and I have 6 (auto-updated from 5 when I wasn’t paying attention).

    I use Chrome for my every day browsing needs, but all webdev still takes place in Firefox.

    Thanks for the informative article though, will certainly check out some of the other Chrome extensions.

  5. Maybe Firefox should implement a “search hiding” feature whereby addons that have not been updated since xyz, will be hidden from searches. Similar to what WordPress has done.

    I have also switched to Chrome, but use FF with Firebug for development.

  6. Man am I happy to hear you make this post. I have been so aggravated with Firefox for the last several months that I can’t stand it almost more than IE6! CONSTANT upgrades, it crashes often and when it does crash it won’t restart because it “thinks” it is still running! It also keeps popping up this password bank not found…I could go on and on.

    Luckily, I have been using Chrome for a while and LOVE it. No problems at all, but agreed, the bookmark system really is lame.

    I am still using Firefox only for development simply because of Firebug.

  7. I agree that Chrome sets the bar for everyman browsing, it is impressive.

    But for a dev that has to constantly check for compatibility across the big five, FF was the only platform that made sense to me. I also don’t get the post-version-4-add-on-issues thing, although I’ve only ever depended on Firebug, WDT, and LiveHTTPHeaders, all of which work fine in ff 6.02.

    I never got too hooked on add-ons, so I guess my addiction to FF must be the Mozbackup integration with FF and Thunderbird. Now that’s priceless.

    If ever I had a major niggle about FF it was its page pre-fetching habit. Very annoying when you’re inspecting headers, but easily fixed via about:config.

    Chrome has a way to go yet. Let’s hope it stays light on its feet.

  8. Good call. I’ve been using ff as the secondary browser since chrome was launched. FF is just too slow, and the only reason I keep using it is for development, thanks to the great firebug, colorzilla, measureit and the htmlvalidator addons. Then I use chrome for all the rest. Also, did you check that sites look different between firefox 3.6 and the versions after that? I really couldn’t believe it when I start getting bug reports from clients…

    • All the more reason to deny content to legacy Firefox, i.e. prior to 4.0. You should be also denying content to MSIE prior to 7.0, and arguably prior to 8.0.

      Little point in bucking the trend. Redefine your comfort zone.

  9. Besides firebug, firephp is another thing I would need to replace to switch to chrome.

  10. I totally agree with your reasons for switching. I hate the thought of opening firefox only to find that another update has taken place then having to look and see what doesnt work today. Firefox needs to be far more respective of the add on creators and let them know whats coming down the pike.

    I agree with Ale, I use FF for web work and Chrome for surfing

    • Are you saying the tail should wag the dog?

      Add-on creators know this game, or at least they should. The fact they can’t keep up – or won’t, more likely – is a problem shared.

      Firefox doesn’t need to be more respective of anything regarding plugins or add-ons.

      Users need to wise up.

  11. Funny because I’ve done the same thing for similar reasons beginning of this month.

    Firefox is still unique with all the plugins provided but for a day-to-day internet experience, Chrome is really the best available out there.

  12. I agree 100%. Firefox is such a dog. I used Safari for a while, but it was too limited, so I’m glad Chrome has stepped up. It still lacks the polish a Mac user is used to (i.e. I want to read the page title of the page I’m on, not 10% of it because the tab is too small).

    Other plugins I use are: Page Rank, BuiltWith, SEO.

    I do miss editing CSS inline and seeing the effect before uploading to the server. The screenshot plugin is also crap in Chrome, but it’s a pretty solid browser.

    My favorite features are:
    One box for search and to enter URLs – it just works
    I love how it learns site searches and lets you set quickkeys. So if I type “wiki wordpress” it will search wikipedia only for “wordpress”. Or A for amazon, or img for google image search.

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