Why Google Chrome is awesome.

Hey, it’s not an advertisement, it’s really what I think. I’m going to deviate from my normal brooding and sarcasm this post, so if that’s what you tune in for, and this doesn’t interest you, well thank you for drawing entertainment from my pain. Nah, I kid.

I’m using Google Chrome as my primary web browser, as of yesterday, because I had finally become fed up with Mozilla Firefox. I have been a Firefox user since 2004, when it was Firefox 0.80, and was brand spanking new (having previously been known as Firebird). I loved it. Up until that point I had been using Internet Explorer 6, and while it had been a decent browser, it was slowing down, getting buggy, and had a number of security risks that concerned me.

Enter Firefox. I remember downloading it only a laptop I had, an IBM Thinkpad A21 (800 mhz Pentium-III, 64MB of RAM), hoping to speed up my web browsing on the older system. I was surprised, but pleasantly so. While Firefox took an extra 3 or 4 seconds to start up compared to IE, once it got going it was fast as greased lightning. Pages loaded in seconds, and you could jump back and forth with minimal wait.

For those of you too young to know this, back in 2004, dial-up was still considered the standard, while high speed wasn’t as big in many areas, including our little town stuck out in the back end of nowhere. So 56k was top speed where we lived, and page lag was very noticeable. You’d click on a link, and it would take a good 25-45 seconds for a web page to fully load. Imagine that today, and people would be screaming at their ISPs for refunds.

Back then, though, it wasn’t uncommon to wait that long for a page to load. Well, Firefox would load those same pages in about 10-15 seconds. I mean, that was insane! Not only did the page load fast, but the browser was stable, and would almost never crash. For those of us used to Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, this was unheard of.

That was the beginning of my love affair with a web browser. For the next 12 years, I was faithful. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t use IE or Netscape every so often, sometimes it couldn’t be avoided, as Firefox was still finicky with some websites (at the time, web standards conformed to Internet Explorer, as Microsoft held that standard in a firm grip).

But as web standards became more unified and streamlined, IE lost its grip, and Firefox took hold. In later years, I would try browsers like Maxthon (IE on steroids), Safari, Opera, K-Meleon, and others, but Firefox was my main squeeze.

That changed back in 2011, after Mozilla had decided to change their release schedule for the browser. Instead of months between version updates, they changed it to six weeks, in order to better compete with Chrome, who updated often. This was their Rapid Release program.

I won’t go into the whole history of that change, but suffice to say I didn’t like it, and I still don’t. Oh, sure, I could switch to a different release schedule, but that would also mean waiting longer for proper updates and bug fixes. I guess I just didn’t like the change. Regardless, they went forward with it, and I personally think it degraded the quality of Firefox over the long term.

Firefox was once a lean, mean browsing machine. It was flexible, fast, and capable of building upon a solid framework. Now, I consider it bloated, kludgey, and slow. The recent clashes with Adobe and their Flash player, the rough implementation of HTML 5, the constant updates that break extensions, the ever present memory leak, it all makes for a browser that has lost its lustre.

For a long time, it was Firefox and IE, with Firefox as the underdog but gaining huge ground up against Microsoft’s browsing behemoth. That changed with Chrome. Firefox still held the lead for years, but then Chrome started gaining ground, because Firefox was slowing down, but Chrome was getting faster, leaner, and more stable. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s how Firefox first began to bear down on IE all those years ago.

These days, Firefox holds 11% of the browser market, and Chrome holds 35%. Both of them hold less than IE, which maintains about 45%. Granted, this is the whole market, but even if you count only desktop systems, IE has 25%, Chrome has 17%, and Firefox only 7%. They’ve lost so much ground, and I think it’s because of their missteps these past few years. I think they’ve made serious tactical errors, and have forgotten that usability is the most important aspect of having a web browser.

Who cares how many extensions it has if it can’t render a video on a web page without stuttering, freezing, and skipping? Why do themes matter if it soaks up so much memory that it slows your system down to where the whole browser freezes and fails to respond? They’ve been so busy adding bells and whistles that they’ve forgotten why they existed in the first place: to create a fast, secure, and flexible environment so you can browse the internet in relative ease.

Chrome hasn’t forgotten this. The browser was designed for speed, and while there are extensions I wish I could use with it, the lack of those doesn’t take away from the fact that I can open the browser without slowing down my system, I can watch a video without it freezing the whole browser, or skipping and stuttering. Hell, that the video even loads is an accomplishment considering Firefox’s stance on Flash and what it did to my web experience. Yeah, yeah, security, I get it, but did you guys have to break every fucking thing in the process?

I mean, shit, I could watch full screen standard definition video back in 2004 with that little IBM, and do so without stuttering or freezing. How did you guys fuck that up?

So what straw broke the camel’s back? That would be what happened a month ago. Firefox did it’s little updating thing, and we got a new version of Firefox. Now, I only have a few extensions, but those few are important to me, and make my browsing experience better. This extension I had was called Custom Buttons, and it let me create a button I could put in my launch bar and click on it opening a tab in the background so I could quickly access it without having to dig for the link. I used it for my image host.

See, I work with a lot of images, so a single click to open up the upload link for my image host was a really great thing to have. Just click, upload, and done! So what happened? Firefox 44 broke the extension.It was incompatible, and even once they made a workaround, the extension caused the browser to take about 45 seconds to start up, compared to the 7 seconds before the issue arose.

I use my browser a lot, almost constantly, but I do close it on occasion in order to stave off the memory issues Firefox continued to have on my system. So I would close the browser, let everything clear, and then open it back up. Then I would sit and wait for nearly a minute while the browser restarted. For some that’s not a dealbreaker, but for someone like me who is used to his browser loading up in a few seconds, and who relies on his browser almost constantly, that was too much.

Well, I pushed through it for a while, and after a few weeks, there was a fix for the issue. Hooray, I could use my extension again! Except, I didn’t really need to anymore. I had worked without it long enough that it was no longer crucial. I had made a workaround, and was already used to that.

Still, the video issue was a problem, as were other issues I was having with Firefox, so I decided to try something else. I switched to Pale Moon, which is a browser based off of Firefox’s rendering engine, but with a different interface. It was similar enough to Firefox that it felt comfortable, but it used an older engine that was far more stable than Firefox’s constant need to update. That worked okay, but even then videos still skipped a little, but I figured I could live with it.

Now, the downside to using an older engine is that websites detect what browser you’re using and adjust accordingly. Well, the websites were detecting Pale Moon as an old browser, and would keep warning me that they couldn’t load the page because the browser needed updating, which it didn’t, this was Pale Moon’s appeal, that they used an older rendering engine that was stable and secure.

Plus, there were secured websites that would refuse to load while using Pale Moon, or would load incorrectly. I needed to access these sites as part of my duties one has as a server admin, so it wasn’t something I could just ignore. I may be old fashioned, but I feel if you have to switch browsers just for a few websites, then the browser you’re using as a primary is inadequate. It may have been different in 2004 when web standards were more favorable to IE, but this is 2016, and there’s no excuse for that anymore. Pale Moon was out.

So I opened up Chrome, and updated all of my bookmarks and passwords (I had last used it in 2013 for a few days when Firefox had stopped working for some strange reason). I installed a great little extension that lets me right click anywhere and access my bookmarks, so no hunting around for links (Chrome’s bookmark setup is a little odd and, if you’re a former Firefox user, a bit disorienting).

Now I’m using Chrome, and it feels as comfortable as when I used Firefox. I’m already used to its little idiosyncrasies, but more importantly, there are several major things I like about it:

Firstly, my videos play immediately. No stuttering, no skipping, no blank screens, they just play. SD, HD, doesn’t matter, Chrome plays them like it’s not even a bother.

Secondly, the extensions I have work without a hitch. I have my ad blocker, my weather extension, and my context menu bookmarks (that’s the right click one I was mentioning earlier). Remember when I said Chrome was built for speed? Man, is that ever right. The browser loads pages almost as fast as I can click the link.

If there’s one thing I have to get used to, it’s that the tabs don’t load the page until you click on it. On the downside, it means waiting a few more seconds when you click over as Chrome loads the rest of the page. On the upside, it means Chrome doesn’t have that massive memory leak that Firefox still suffers from.

So there you have it, the story of why I switched from Firefox to Chrome, after 12 years of loyalty. Maybe someday the folks at Mozilla will realize that Firefox was better when it was simple, a browser built for speed and flexibility. Until then, I’m a Chrome user.

Happy browsing!

John

P.S. – If you read all of this, then I only have one thing to add: NNNNNNEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRD!

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