RE: Chrome

Amazon knows almost everything about nearly every major purchase I’ve made in the last four years (or longer, I can’t even remember when I started shopping on Amazon). Google knows all about who I’ve been in touch with, what I’ve been looking at, looking for and reading all over the Internet for at least the last three years, but probably even longer since I was using their search engine shortly after they first appeared online about a decade ago.

And, until recently (just today, actually), Firefox has been quietly and dependably facilitating all of my activities, communications and learning via the World Wide Web since I converted from Internet Explorer near the beginning of the millennium, around 2004 (not that I needed a good reason to leave that tired piece of reject code behind). All the way from 1.0 to version 3+ I’ve been a loyal supporter, fan and avid user of Mozilla’s beautifully designed desktop icon, Firefox. I upgrade every chance I get. I install plug-ins. I even bought a Firefox t-shirt and some stickers.

I still love Firefox, but now I’m feeling a little… confused.

It’s not like I didn’t tell her. Firefox knew all about our little “thing” since it started. Since February of 2005 I’ve been a raving fan of Gmail, Google’s (still beta, three years later) e-mail service, and Firefox was there when I signed up. When Google really started branching out into other services, especially with the iGoogle homepage, Google Docs and Google Reader, I was interested. After all, Google was a strong supporter of Firefox, so using their services wasn’t a disservice to my beloved web browser at all, was it? In fact, I was supporting a supporter of Firefox.

A couple of days ago I heard that Google was on the verge of releasing their new browser, Chrome. I read a nice article about it from a source I enjoy reading (and usually trust) and decided to give it a try. I had already been using Google Desktop on my Linux laptop and Google’s Picasa photo software on my Windows computer, and I love Google Earth, Google Talk and Google’s release of SketchUp, so a Google web browser didn’t sound all that bad.

My first impressions are a mess of mixed feelings, but overall I am both impressed and pleased. I can come up with really only one major gripe (other than that Chrome doesn’t support any good plug-ins yet, like Adblock Plus) having to do with the way it handles RSS and other subscription feeds, but despite how much I do like the newcomer, my beloved Firefox is dormant even now while I use Google Docs to write this from within Chrome, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I’m enjoying the experience, but with a touch of bitterness. Chrome is not Firefox. Mozilla took on a web browser giant and made some major headway and history, significantly impacting Microsoft’s monopoly on the web browser market. Now Google wants to offer Internet goers yet another option, and I’m all for competition, but now I am forced to question my personal definitions of loyalty and support in this grand game of Hungry Hungry Web Browsers.

Would making the complete switch to Chrome be betrayal? I’m not ready for that yet, as I have fallen in love with the features many of Firefox’s plug-ins offer as well as Firefox’s inherent feature-set. I don’t think Chrome is that far behind though, and it will probably catch up soon. What should I do? Obviously I’ve switched before, and it’s not like I’m married to Firefox, but I had never felt loyalty for a product before like I do for Firefox – or so I thought. Perhaps what I felt wasn’t loyalty at all, but satisfaction. If I can find satisfaction somewhere else, and we’re not talking about marriage here (of course) then perhaps I belong somewhere else.

That’s how I handled my switch from a mail service I liked (go.com, before Disney bought them – do you even remember them?) to a mail service I love. That’s how we should do business, that’s why there’s competition. There has to be choice.

But then, I’ve been with Firefox longer than I’ve been with my wife. We go way back (in Internet years, anyhow). Just now I was doing some research to get the dates right for when Firefox was first released, and when Google really got their start. I typed “http://www.wikipedia.org” into the address bar, then hit “TAB” and it displayed this:

Then I could type in my search without ever having to load the main Wikipedia page. Of course, Firefox and other browsers have offered this function in one way or another (separate search bars, toolbars, plug-ins, etc.) but never has the workflow been this natural and easy (from later tests I found that I didn’t even have to hit the tab). That’s just one of many features they’ve included in their browser (the Omnibox).

They also snatched up the fastest JavaScript engine on the market (up to ten times than the system Firefox is running, and WAY faster than the IE JavaScript), and they set up their infrastructure to prevent many of the problems that older browsers are facing today with common viruses, bugs and page crashes that can disable the browser or even the whole computer.  
For more details on the technical aspects of this new browser, check out some of these articles:

  • Wired Magazine – the one I read that got me interested – the history, reasons behind it and some of the new technology in a well-written, easy-to-read, fun presentation
  • Blogoscoped – very good basic rundown of the features
  • Washington Post – good review of some of the features
  • PC World – good article, seven reasons for it and against it
  • USA Today – a nice, brief review

In the end, Chrome has many awesome, powerful features that make it very attractive to me. I may end up switching when they make those last couple of changes to make it just a little more attractive to this (still) loyal Firefox user.

No matter what happens, though, I’m keeping my Firefox t-shirt.

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