Will Google Chrome's speed displace Firefox?

Chrome is lightning fast. According to one influential observer, this alone may lead him and others to dump Firefox.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

If "only the paranoid survive," as former Intel CEO Andy Grove used to say, then Mozilla, the organization behind the open-source Firefox browser, needs to put its paranoia on overdrive.

That's the sense I got reading through Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady's billet-doux to Chromium, the open-source project behind the Google Chrome browser. O'Grady has long been friendly to Mozilla and a dedicated user of Firefox. When his head is turned by another browser, it's time for concern.

Yes, Firefox continues to grow its market share, now sitting comfortably at 22.47 percent, while Chrome is far behind at 2.59 percent. But O'Grady is an influencer (even if he has yet to persuade me to adopt the Linux "desktop"), and his reasons for preferring Chrome are important:

The open source version of Chrome is far from perfect; the recently enabled plugins which permit the usage of Flash and so on are regularly disabled and/or non-functional, the rendering engine still has its occasional issues, and too many poorly designed browser-sniffing sites give it a hard time. But it's just so damned fast. And speed is not just a feature, but a feature I prioritize.

Not in the rendering. Although its from-scratch V8 Javascript engine definitely gives sites like Google Docs a boost, I've found Firefox 3.5's counterpart, Tracemonkey, very competitive on most sites. But that's where the good news ends for Firefox.

In virtually every other sense, Chromium outperforms Firefox. Google's browser launches more quickly, features snappier tab creation and--perhaps most importantly--doesn't bog down after prolonged usage. And while the performance gains when measured might seem minute...they really add up over time.

As O'Grady notes, his observations apply to the Linux versions of Chrome and Firefox, but they still should give Mozilla pause.

In this little war, however, perhaps Microsoft is taking Firefox's side, at least against Google. As The Register reports, Microsoft Office Web Apps, due out in 2010, will support Firefox and other "familiar Web browsers," which doesn't include Chrome, Safari (for Windows), or Opera. Apparently, Microsoft will only be supporting those browsers that don't have an operating system competitor attached to them.

The browser market has become hugely competitive and, as a result, more innovative and much more interesting. I'm confident the Mozilla team will respond to Chrome's apparent speed advantages, but equally confident that Google, Apple, and Microsoft will work just as hard to outflank Mozilla and the other browser competitors in other ways.

All of which is good for you and for me as we enjoy the results of the competition. Now if we could just get this level of competition in all areas of software.

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