Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chrome gobbling up Firefox users

This is an interesting bit of news.

Overall, Firefox seems to have stalled while Chrome is growing. Amongst Ars Technica users, IE and Firefox are losing share to Safari and Chrome. A 14% share amongst a tech-savvy community within a year of it's public unveiling is good by any standards. At this rate, on this website atleast, by the end of summer, Chrome would be in the number 2 position.

While IE's decay is hardly unsurprising, the loss of mind share amongst a savvy community does not bode well for Firefox. I have been a chrome convert for a long time now. I was also unaware of the general stall in Firefox's growth

Speaking about overall internet aware community is pretty hard. After all some 20% of IE users are still using IE6. :P Why did I switch over to Chrome? Well actually I use the non trademarked, third party provided builds, so it is probably more accurate to call it Chromium.

Firefox has always been pretty good with it's rendering accuracy. FF2 and 3 were pretty good in this regard. However, where they really messed up was Javascript speed and tab isolation. All versions of FF so far have been a single process design and it used to lock up with many tabs/heavy javascript often. Many times, it would be just a single bad tab taking down the entire browser. The only way out was to kill the entire browser itself, losing your entire session.

The memory usage was another problem. I use my browsers for long periods of time often opening lots of tabs and the closing them and this usage cycle repeats often. All through this, FF's memory consumption keeps increasing due to memory fragmentation. I have seen a single Gmail tab use up more than 300 MB of memory after a long period of usage. In FF 3 and earlier, it was pretty common after just a couple of such usage cycles to have a single tab use up about 200 MB memory.

With these problems at hand, I switched over to Chromium for it's speed and scalability under heavy loads. For the most part, the rendering was fine but it did have occasional rendering SNAFU's. Within a couple of months they were sorted out too. It's not like Chromium never jams up. It does. But the failure rate is easily an order of magnitude less that FF3. FF3.5 has, for the most part, has competitive JS performance and the lock up issues occur much less frequently. I haven't looked at FF3.6 yet.

With those two bugbears off it's back, what is holding FF back for me? In no particular order, they are as follows.

First, it wastes a lot of window space, which Chromium reuses for actual web pages. The rest of browser window is unused 99% of the time, why waste screen real estate for the 1% case.

Second, it does not, yet, have flexible tab manipulation. By that, I mean easy (drag-and-drop) shuffling of tabs across browser windows. May be it is already there in FF and I don't know how to use it. For me, it is the browser's equivalent of multiple desktops in Linux world.

Third, the first option when you right click on a link is 'open in new tab' in Chromium. Juggling multiple browser windows is clumsy, which is why we have moved on to tabbed browsing today. Then what is the point of having 'open in new window' as the first option in right-click menus?

Fourth, Chromium's integrated address and search bar is enormously useful. It suits my browsing style so much that I positively detest the split bars in all other browsers today. I am not going back to any other browser if it does not have this feature.

Fifth, Chromium's another useful feature (largely overlooked by the competition) is that when you close off a tab, the rest of the tabs do not appropriate the whole horizontal window space immediately. There is a small pause, which is very useful in closing adjacent tabs, as the next tab's cross button smoothly slides into the now-closed tab's cross button's position. Try closing many tabs with your mouse in FF. You'll often have to move your pointer as you close off tabs. This is a big irritant for my daily use.

Which browser I am gonna be using in the future? Chromium, definitely. It won over FF because it was better in many (but not all) regards. Today it is better in all but one. No DownThemAll :(. I should mention that I didn't use many FF extensions. The one that I like (a lot) is DownThemAll. Sometimes, I often start up FF just to use this. But that's pretty much it.

It's the same situation with Google vs Bing. Initially people switched over to Google because it was better than everyone else in search. Now MS/Bing has been trying hard to compete with Google. And at the moment it is almost as good as Google. But it won't gain market/mind share until it becomes better than Google. And I won't go back to FF until it becomes better that Chromium.

On a side note, it appears that Ubuntu does not upgrade packages in it's update repositories. Although Ubuntu 9.10 has been keeping my FF updated with all the security and other bug fixes, it has not updated my FF 3.5 to 3.6. Apparently, it is their policy to provide feature updates in the next distribution release only. I like Fedora more on this count. :P


Kashyap said...

My thoughts:

1. "..., it (FF) wastes a lot of window space, ... "

Hmm, I never noticed. Where exactly is this extra space? I am currently switching between ff and chrome and i see exactly the same html render space. If you are referring to the lack of a standard title bar in chrome, that can be easily remedied in one of 2 ways:
a. Remove title bar in ff (
b. Add title bar in chrome (i prefer this one, for uniform look and feel and ease of dragging the window around)

2. Flexible tab manipulation:
I agree for some reason its not on linux, but on windows i have used this... awesome on multi monitor setups. Little known fact: gedit has flexible tabs too.

3. " in new window..."
I pity (some) laptop users... For others, there is always middle click.

4. Integrated address and search:
Used this feature in ff just a few seconds ago. words entered into the address bar result in a google query page. Infact, I would actually WANT another search box, for easy custom searches like imdb or wikipedia.
(note: sure, the search suggestions dont work in the address bar of ff. i concede that point)

5. Tab closing funda: seriously? no comment. i guess this one is a personal quirk.

Finally, what clinches it (for me) is the sheer number of ff plugins.

RPG said...

1. The extra space I am speaking of is gained by getting rid of the titlebar and menubar

1a. It is an extension for an extension. Needs Chromifox extreme to work. I installed Chromifox extreme. It nuked my Ctrl+F. Uninstalled Chromifox Extreme. Ctrl-F is still dead. Bad, bad extension.

2. Thanks for the gedit tip.

3. If I press both the touchpad buttons, it does it in a new tab. This is a big help.

4. That feature is flaky. try typing arbit and pressing enter in FF. It'll try to teleport you to http://arbit/ I think it doesn't search when you type in only one word which is not in history.


I suppose custom search engines could be added via a chrome extension to offer IMDB searches along with Google searches all the time. But until someone implements it, it has to count against chromium. Offering multiple searches all the time could be useful.

5. I often open a ton of tabs and close many in one go. It suits my usage style pretty well.

After 1, I'll think 10 times before I install *any* FF extension.