What this Firefox user misses about Chrome

Chrome isn't revolutionary, but having switched back to Firefox for the time being, I do miss some user interface features.

Call me fickle, but I switched my default browser back to Firefox for the time being. In doing so, I discovered the features I really miss about Chrome.

Why did I switch back so soon after lavishing praise on Google's open-source Web browser? Well, when Google added the option to use a cutting-edge "developer preview" version, I signed up, and guess what--it's not as stable. Specifically, both 2.0.156.1 and the newer 2.0.157.2 that I now have installed inexplicably become unresponsive for long periods of time--at least 10 seconds, which is about 9.5 seconds longer than my tolerance limit.

But I like some of Chrome's new features, so I didn't want to downgrade to better-tested stable or beta versions. Instead, I thought perhaps I'd see what my second-favorite browser felt like again while waiting for the newer Chrome features to settle down.

I was a little surprised. What got me to switch to Chrome two months ago was performance, but what I missed most upon heading back to Firefox was Chrome's user interface.

More than once, I found that even after a few weeks of Chrome, my muscle memory had been reprogrammed to expect different behavior. Switching back to Firefox wasn't just different, though--I wanted the old features. Here's a list of what I didn't even know that I'd come to like.

The location of new tabs
When you open a link in a new tab with Chrome (I often middle-click to do so), the new page shows up in tab immediately to the right of the current tab. This naturally groups related tabs, and for me at least, eases the process of switching among many.

When you open a new tab in Firefox, it appears to the far right of the list, and it's harder to get to it. It takes just that little extra bit of time to locate and navigate to the tab.

Good news, though: Mozilla evangelist Chris Blizzard pointed me to a blog post by programmer Mike Beltzner, which says the same behavior is coming to Firefox:


• tabs that are opened from links will open to the immediate right of the current tab br>
• new tabs created by the New Tab button or keyboard shortcut will open at the end of the tab strip br>
• if multiple tabs are opened (in the background) from links, they will open sequentially to the right of each other; as soon as focus changes, this sequential opening behavior will stop, and tabs will go back to opening immediately to the right or at the end of the tab strip as per the above br>

After typing 'g' in Firefox, it takes two more keystrokes to load Gmail.
After typing 'g' into Firefox's awesome bar, it takes two more keystrokes to load Gmail. CNET News
After typing 'g' in Chrome, hitting the Enter key will load Gmail.
After typing 'g' in Chrome, hitting the Enter key will load Gmail. CNET News

Searching from the address bar
I think Firefox's awesome bar does a better job digging previously visited links out of my history, but searching directly from Google's Omnibox, which adds online search into the mix, is more useful. I search dozens of times a day, and now I have to remember either to visit a search page or head over to Firefox's special search box (to do the latter faster, I hit Ctrl-L, then Tab).

Some folks are concerned about sending lots of juicy personal data to Google's servers, which monitors what you type so it can supply suggested search results. But except for typing in Web sites, it's the same stuff I'd type into a search page anyway.

One less keystroke
When typing addresses into the address bar, both Chrome and Firefox offer a list of suggestions in a drop-down box. But Chrome highlights its top pick, while Firefox puts it one entry below the box.

That means if the pick is right, I just have to hit Enter with Chrome, but the down arrow, then Enter with Firefox. It's a tiny thing, but I do this hundreds of times a day.

Launch speed
Technically this is more a performance issue than a user interface issue, but responsiveness does matter. Loading Chrome feels like loading Notepad, a program that hasn't changed much from the era of 386-based Windows 3.1 machines; loading Firefox feels more like the grindingly slow process of hauling Outlook into my machine's memory.

Don't get me wrong--there are plenty of things I like better about Firefox, including RSS feed discovery, extensions, the full-screen mode, color profile support, about:config for tweaks, and, I discovered a couple weeks ago, compatibility with McAfee's e-commerce Web site.

But I give credit to Google for coming up with actual interface improvements.

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Software
About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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