I didn't set out to switch. But while using Chrome, it felt as if some friction had been removed from the Web. Now it's my default, despite its shortcomings.
Sorry if it sounds like I'm drinking the Google Kool-Aid here, but I switched from Mozilla Firefox to Google Chrome as my default browser for the very reason Google's executives said we should: speed. (Get Google Chrome from Download.com.)
Years ago, Firefox won me over chiefly with plug-ins, tabbed browsing, and some security advantages. But using Chrome removed a bit of friction from the Web I hadn't realized was there. It felt like discovering I'd been driving with the parking brake on just a bit.
Here's what coaxed me away: Chrome starts way faster than Firefox. Web pages load faster when I type in an address or click a link. The Omnibox--Chrome's combination location bar and search box--often gets me where I want to go at least a keystroke faster, and I'm not terribly worried about sending Web navigation and search data to Google.
Individually, a few tenths of a second here or there doesn't make much difference. But it adds up fast. I spend hours a day using the Web--not just browsing, but also uploading photos, issuing instructions to my bank, editing documents online, and posting comments. As the Web gets more complex and more deeply embedded in my life, waiting for it gets more annoying.
I hadn't set out to convert to Chrome. I just wanted to see how well it worked, so I used it to run my personal e-mail while at work. Then I added in reading RSS feeds. After a few weeks, I noticed that I was manually copying Web addresses to Chrome and realized that my subconscious mind had made its decision. So last week, I set it as my default browser, despite a range of criticisms (see below).
After I told Mozilla Foundation Chairman Mitchell Baker about my experience, she sounded a bit crestfallen. "We've been increasing our focus on performance for some time. Maybe comments such as yours will increase that," she said.
Faster stripped-down Firefox
More to the point, Mozilla suggested I try a fresh installation of Firefox, one that's not burdened by those pesky extensions. I hadn't been running a large quantity, but I started with a fresh reinstallation of Firefox 3.1 beta 1.
I have to say that Firefox picked up the pace a notch. But I compared it again with Chrome on many Web sites I use daily and a variety of others, and with the exception of Flickr and My Yahoo, I still found Chrome snappier.
Of course, disabling extensions is a shame, given that it's one of Firefox's big advantages. Google has promised an extensions framework at some point, and it's the top-requested feature, with 381 people having starred it as a priority in Google's issue-tracking system for Chrome.
Reinstalling Firefox also reminded me of a feature in the forthcoming Firefox 3.1 that I was happy to leave behind: tab-switching behavior. I'm a big fan of keyboard shortcuts, and use Ctrl-Tab hundreds of times daily to switch between browser tabs. I loathe the new Firefox mechanism, which switches to your most recently used tab rather than cycling one tab to the right, and showing a miniature preview version of the Web page instead of actually switching tabs. I don't know if others' brains work differently, but the new mechanism leaves me completely lost in a sea of tabs, forcing me to use the mouse, which slows me down.
I reverted to the earlier tab-switching feature by adjusting Firefox's behavior thus: First, type "about:config" into the address bar, then move past the warning message, then type "ctrlTab" into the "Filter" box, then double-click first on browser.ctrlTab.mostRecentlyUsed and then on browser.ctrlTab.smoothScroll to set them to "false," then restart the browser.
Meanwhile, though, Chrome cycles the way I like, and in another nice move, it opens new tabs immediately to the right of the page I'm reading when I middle-click to open a page in a new tab. That conveniently groups related tasks together.
Here's what's keeping me an active Firefox user, though: Chrome's lack of support for color profiles.
Most images on the Web are encoded with a color scheme called sRGB, but there are others out there including AdobeRGB and Microsoft's scRGB that can show a much broader range of colors. I'm a photography buff with an eensy-weensy photo business, so I prefer images to look as good as possible on the Web.
Apple's Safari was the pioneer for color management, and Firefox added color profile support with version 3.0 if users manually enable it. With version 3.1, Firefox applies color profiles for images that have been tagged with one. As a result, images on my high-gamut monitor at home look fine in Firefox, but in Chrome they're hideously garish and oversaturated. It's a showstopper for me when I'm doing anything photo-related on the Web.
I recognize my color preference is at odds with Google's performance push. Mozilla programmers found that supporting color profiles slowed Firefox 20 percent to 30 percent, though they reduced that number 4 percent to 5 percent with testing. Eventually, to get it lower, they went with a third way, applying color profiles only for tagged images, which caused only a 1 percent performance hit.
But Google hasn't even gotten to the stage of evaluating performance effects. "I don't see how any sites could depend on this feature if it's missing/disabled for 90 percent of users," said Chrome Program Manager Mark Larson in a response to a request to add color management to Chrome, referring to the fact that color management is missing in Internet Explorer and not enabled yet in mainstream Firefox. "I'm all for it, but it's definitely not a release priority."
Chrome has other issues that frequently annoy me. Allow me to share.
• There's no plug-in mechanism. I'm getting by, but there are some I'd like to have back.
• Bad support for RSS subscription feeds. In Firefox, a site with an RSS feed gets an icon in the address bar, and clicking it signs me up for the subscription. In Chrome, I have to hope someone manually put a link on the page, but usually I just move back over to Firefox.
• When I launch a new window, Chrome never starts it maximized, even if the last window was. This is a bit surprising, given Google's laudable emphasis on showing as much real estate as possible. I always want my browser page maximized. On a related note, I miss Firefox's maximized mode (hit F11 to try it out).
• Chrome doesn't respect changing monitor sizes well. When I move to a dual-monitor setup, Chrome stomps all over Windows' task bar.
• Selection and copy-paste issues. When I'm selecting text in Chrome, I don't like how the blue selection box spreads wider than the text box. And when text is selected but I missed a few characters, I don't like the inability to use Shift-right arrow keys to extend the selection a bit.
Those are my issues, and I'm sure other people have their own. What's keeping you from switching to Chrome? Vote in the poll above and share your thoughts below.