Friday, 19 November 2010

If browsers were auto-mobiles; Firefox v Chrome

Dear blog readers, I have been these last few months sacrificing my own sanity and stability for the sake of improved browsing. I decided to beta test Firefox 4 when my regular 3.6 Firefox started crashing every time I watched a youtube clip or tried to read certain types of e-mails. I reckoned if I went on the Beta it would at least keep me from doing what at least a good 1/4 if not more of Firefox users had done, which is to switch to Chrome. Chrome, the browser that replaced my previous secondary browser, Safari, has the good sense to pretend it's Firefox. It looks like Firefox, it works like Firefox and occasionally has a java crash just like Firefox. What Chrome does not have, is the full range of options and features that Firefox has. It never will either. No amount of catching up will help it, as IE already knows. More on Chrome in a bit.

Have I had fun Beta testing? Well not really. But it did keep my long established bookmarks and browsing habits intact. Depending on the version of Beta4 FF, it would or would not accept my UK English dictionary, a deal breaker for me. The dictionary issue seems to have been sorted now for good. It had issues with certain add ons I depended on intermittently, but as it accepted the important ones, I wasn't too fussed. What really kept me going, was the anticipation that with every new version I'd have a new toy to play with. And in this regard, FF 4.* never disappointed. One new function I love is the tab grouping function or Tab Candy. If for example I have 6 tabs , all of which are iPlayer pages, I can sort them into one box and set them aside, or if I'm researching an article and need several related web pages, they're all in one spot. If I'm honest, I didn't immediately warm to this as I have my own way of doing things, but it works a treat if I choose to use it only when I need it. The other feature I cannot live without now, is the placement of the tabs on top and my bookmark bar where I need it ..... as close as possible. Before, if you weren't careful , you were triggering all sorts of things and moving tabs into new windows. What about Synch? I think I like it, but I'm not too about it. The assumption is that you and you alone are sole master or mistress (depending on your bits), of your computer. As it happens, we have two lappies and both my wife and I use both. Who's new bookmarks get precedence? I don't know, and being far too busy with other things, I'm not in the mood to experiment with something that isn't broken. But if it in deed does save both with little bother, then I'll be a convert.

As a Firefox pioneer going back to 2004, I have been loyal and not moved or been tempted till the crashing problem started with the 3.6 update. Till then, nothing would move me and I assumed that Javascript and Firefox were walking in lock step. But it turns out that for at least a while, they weren't. At one point it even seemed like Javascript was going out of it's way to make Firefox user's life a living hell. With the advent of the Javascript crash protector feature, you just reload the page now and don't loose your entire browser. This however was a temporary measure till the previous reliability of Firefox, pre 3.6 returns. In the current Beta 4.7, I have yet to crash, in fact not since the start of the Beta process have I crashed. Even my Blogger stats page functions without any difficulty now.  You still have to occasionally reload a page if the Java buffer gets too full , but that's not really a problem  anymore. More importantly, Youtube works fine as well as paypal and a variety of similar sites. I now feel the same confidence browsing I felt prior to 3.6. The current official Firefox 3.12 has much the same feel but not as many as the new features in the Beta, but at least it doesn't crash anymore.  As the release version of Firefox 4 creeps ever closer, I feel the subsequent versions of the Beta will change very little outwardly now.

If I had to choose which browsers to include on a computer, I'd without hesitation recommend Firefox as your default and Chrome as your back up. What having a back up like Chrome does, is it gives a  comp the option to have two users on at the same time or more importantly opening a separate google ID in Chrome. For those of you who just use Gmail, you don't need this much bother, but for people like me who are in Gmail, blogger and calendar, Google has assumed you are not sharing and will bugger your tabs if you dare check a different email or blog. Consequently, you need to separate your identities on different browsers. As well Chrome could be your media player, allowing you to delegate online radio functions to a session that isn't connected to your Firefox work. I use Chrome to play BBC Radio Newcastle as well as several other stations. Because Chrome copies your bookmarks so well, you don't have a lot of faffing around with new settings and just go straight to your radio links.

Why Firefox as your default then?  Simples, If browsers were auto-mobiles, Firefox would be the Mercedes S class. Firefox from the first version was light years ahead of Internet Explorer and open source. It has consistently kept ahead of the spammers and stopped pop ups and phishing cold on my computer without resort to all sorts of outside softwares. Like the S class, Firefox is the place where features you'll see on other browsers are born on. Why wait for the others to catch up? And now that the javascript problem is fully fettled, you don't have the crashing feeling that might have infuriated you before. Beta download

Chrome if it's anything, is the economy model of the top cars, as I said before, it looks and works like Firefox mostly, but it's got limitations. Some of them are quite serious. To start you can't save an RSS feed into your bookmarks, this is such a red flag I'm surprised to learn it's not a a priority for Chrome. The tabs are where they used to be on Firefox, just above your current page, seeing as how a clear preference was shown by users to move them out of harms way, I can only conclude, Chrome are playing catch up. Chrome's themes are also less than perfect in several regards. Where Firefox has a vast selection of themes ranging from Doctor Who or Star Trek to AC/DC, Chrome has none of that. Their user created themes are faulty in as much as they still blot out your web address line with colours that render the letters unreadable. Where Firefox has sorted the javascript issues, Chrome has not, and often the iPlayer or feedjit will simply stop working within seconds if you have too much javascript going. For those using a proxy server, the settings on Chrome are automatic but tend to take an eternity to realize you've disabled Foxy Proxy.  It's not all doom and gloom though, you can import your Firefox settings in one go through the tool box on the right. This is cool as you have almost no adjustments to make once you've imported. If you've got a list of customized search engines you use in Firefox, you know how easy is to switch them out, but in chrome you need to go the toolbox and it's a limited choice that greets you. About the toolbox. If you are like me and like tinkering and fine tuning, Chrome doesn't give you a lot of wiggle room, if anything, it's pretty basic and the help feature about as useful as a Delhi tour guide on the Isle of Man. I suggest reading every part of the tool box and exploring, it's still the best way figure it out.

Safari , my old back up browser, is for Macs, I'm sure it's bloody brilliant on Macs, but on non Mac machines, it's rubbish, don't even bother, too complicated to fettle, too married to extolling the virtues of Mac and flogging the big news sites. the floating web page menu sucks RAM like a thirsty camel but offers nothing special in return.... This Delorean promises a lot but delivers nothing.

Internet Eplorer, the browser that time forgot. They keep improving it, but who really cares? They are always months behind Firefox and Safari ( if you use a Mac), and the only reason many people keep it on the computer is because we can't get rid of it. Now I'll tell you, about half my readers still use IE. Why? because frankly many of them are too afraid to try the other browsers, don't know how to find the other browsers or cant be bothered to set up all the bits they think they need to, to feel at home with it. IE is like an old Camero, it goes in a straight line, works fine till it doesn't , then sends pop ups to you till you close your machine down. Even now ( about two weeks ago), I tried IE, the new one, as it was the browser in the library, I never again want to go on there. Still pop up infested and the vast majority of viruses and worms are written for IE. Why would you want to take these kinds of risks?

I won't praise or criticize Opera or the other mirade of browsers out there, as I've not used them,I'm sure some of them are perfect for specific users and have incredibly loyal followings, But I Am, have been and continue to be a Firefox man.

Choose your browser carefully, do not settle for IE, it's not worth it, and be demanding of your browser, a good one will want to know the good and the bad and will react much faster than Microsoft ever will.

Happy browsing, I'm off to watch Children in need now.

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