Chrome vs. Firefox


I have been a loyal Firefox user since version 0.8 or so, back in 2004 when it was still known as Firebird. When designing my web sites, I used Firefox exclusively, and before publishing them, I frequently forgot to make sure they worked properly in IE, which they usually didn’t because I used CSS standards (parts of which are either ignored or implemented wrong by IE) as much as possible. I installed the Adblock add-on the moment I heard about it, and have seen very few internet ads since then. It’s been great. There were only two major drawbacks to using Firefox:

  1. Some websites didn’t work properly in Firefox, either because they use evil ActiveX controls which only work on IE, or because they were simply developed using IE and other browsers were ignored. Notably, Sybase’s internal vacation request and scheduling system uses ActiveX so I have to use IE for that. Both of these issues are becoming less and less prevalent as browsers such as Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Chrome gain market share.
  2. Firefox uses a boatload of memory. I would sometimes have a Firefox window open with only one tab (usually showing my gmail inbox), and Task Manager would tell me it was using well over 200 MB of RAM.

Then Google Chrome was released, with the promise of much faster rendering and Javascript. I considered trying it out, but read a couple of reviews at the time saying that it was not bad, but not really “ready for prime time”. In recent weeks, I’ve read more reviews from people who have made the switch and are quite impressed with Chrome. A few weeks ago, after hearing from yet another source that Chrome used much less memory than Firefox, I decided to give it a try. Since then, I have used Chrome almost exclusively. I’ve noticed a few differences, both pro and con.

Advantages of Chrome

  1. Everything is faster. In particular, Javascript is much faster. Gmail is very snappy, and other sites that are heavy on the Javascript (like Stack Overflow) are also faster.
  2. Chrome uses much less memory. Right now, I have one Chrome window open, with one tab showing my gmail inbox. There are four (?) Chrome processes running, using a total of 43 MB of RAM. I’ve seen other times where I have a couple of tabs open, and there are seven or eight Chrome processes running. But the total amount of memory they’re using is still less than one Firefox.
  3. A problem in one tab that causes a crash will only cause that tab to vanish, not the whole application. I’ve only seen this happen once, and actually the tab didn’t vanish at all – the video that was supposed to play in it never did, but Chrome kept right on truckin’ along. Firefox doesn’t crash that often for me either, but when it does, the whole thing goes away.
  4. Some sites (like Google Reader or, again, Stack Overflow) have “tooltips” that don’t seem to work in Firefox, but do in Chrome and IE.
  5. Text areas are always resizable. Very nice.
  6. Chrome detects known malware sites and prevents you from going there and even from loading third-party javascript from them, though you can bypass the protection if you really want to. Firefox, without NoScript, will happily serve you up any nasty Javascript it’s told to.

Advantages of Firefox

  1. Firefox has a rich community of add-ons. For Chrome it’s already begun with user scripts, but there aren’t many of them and it’s a lot more manual work to install them, and you also have to use the less-stable beta branch version of Chrome. I’m sure that in future versions there will be automated installation and lots more to choose from, but for now Firefox wins. Some of the ones I love that have no equivalent in Chrome (yet):
    • NoScript disables Javascript entirely unless you manually enable it for the particular site you are on. I have it set so that sites I frequently visit have Javascript enabled just enough for the site to work. If a site uses its own stuff plus something from doubleclick.net, the doubleclick stuff is disabled. AFAIK, there’s no way to do this in Chrome, so I probably have doubleclick cookies on my machine now. Damn those doubleclick people, damn them all to hell. (Yes I know they’re now Google people)
    • AdBlock for Firefox rocks. So much so that I’ve linked to it twice in this article. With Chrome, I am seeing ads on pages that I never knew had ads. After a while I discovered a similar thing for Chrome called AdSweep, which worked pretty well, though I saw more ads than I did with Firefox. Unfortunately, AdSweep requires the beta branch, as I mentioned above.
    • XMarks (formerly FoxMarks) synchronizes your bookmarks and saved passwords between instances of Firefox (i.e. work and home). It doesn’t yet exist for Chrome.
  2. Firefox can re-open tabs that have been accidentally closed. I haven’t found a way to do that with Chrome. It is possible in Chrome, though not exactly intuitive. When you open a new tab, it shows you some frequently-viewed and recently-viewed pages, and there’s also a list of “recently closed” pages.
  3. Firefox supports keymarks in their bookmarks, which are just shortcuts. For example, I can enter “fb” to go to facebook.com. Chrome doesn’t support these directly, but does a very fast search (hey, it’s Google) on your bookmarks and brings up bookmarks that match what you’ve typed in the bar. However, Firefox keymarks supports parameters, so I can do a search on IMDB by saving a bookmark like “http://imdb.com/find?q=%s;s=all“. The %s is replaced with the parameter you enter, so if I enter “imdb glitter” in the address bar, it does an IMDB search on the Mariah Carey movie “Glitter“, if for some reason I wanted to. Chrome seems to understand “imdb” and immediately does an IMDB search, so that’s fine, but I have another one that accesses our internal bug tracking web site (called iReport). If I enter “ir 12345″ in the Firefox address bar, the bookmark will create the proper URL to take me to the web page for iReport issue #12345. Doing the same on the Chrome address bar ignores the ir bookmark and does a Google search, which obviously doesn’t do what I want.
  4. In Firefox, there is a separate downloads window which lists what’s being (and has been) downloaded. If you’re downloading something large, you can minimize the actual browser window and just leave the downloads window open and watch the progress that way. You can even minimize the downloads window and watch the title of the button in the taskbar, since the title of the window contains the percentage complete. Very handy. In Chrome, it seems to be associated with the tab that started the download. I downloaded a fairly large file earlier today using Chrome, and the only way to see the progress of the download was to have the browser open to the page where I started the download. You can create a tab that shows the download progress, but you still need the entire browser window open.
  5. Firefox allows you to select some text on the web page and “View selection source”, which is easier when debugging problems then downloading the entire source for the page and searching through it. No such option on Chrome.
  6. Firefox has the “Manage bookmarks” window which makes dealing with bookmarks easy. With Chrome, you have to do it one at a time, and there’s no way to sort bookmarks. However, I use delicious.com a lot, so that’s where the majority of my bookmarks are anyway.
  7. On at least one message board site, the keyboard shortcuts to add italic and bold indicators to text don’t work on Chrome.

The result

I’m sticking with Chrome. There seem to be more advantages to Firefox but the only one that was really significant to me is NoScript, and many of the rest are fairly simple things that will likely be fixed before long (I know the sorting bookmarks one is already fixed, just not released yet). I’m generally pretty careful about what web sites I visit – if a site is in any way questionable, I don’t visit it at work, and at home I’m protected by OpenDNS, which I have configured to completely block all porn sites as well as known phishing and adware sites. Chrome’s built-in protection is nice too.

Other than that, the Firefox advantages are either no big deal or easily worked around. The speed of Chrome (not just browsing speed, but the overall speed of my machine is faster without Firefox using 1/4 of my RAM) is just too big of a win.

Update: I revisited this comparison six months later and posted a updated review.

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