Firefox: Hearing Chromium’s Footsteps?

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It’s been 1,916 days or about five and a quarter years, apparently, since I originally switched from Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox. That number should be larger, frankly, as it took me a bit longer than it should have to make the change given the relative innovation in Firefox and lackthereof in its Microsoft competition at that time, but change is never easy.

Which is probably the best explanation as to why I haven’t, like Jeremy, more actively contemplated a switch to Chromium yet. Neither I nor Alex would go so far as to cast Firefox in the IE role quite yet, but the simple fact is that – its flakiness notwithstanding – Chromium is a better browser on Linux for me than Firefox. Yes, even the 3.5 builds.

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, as Jeremy says, they really add up over time. Particularly when the browser has become, over the past five years, my de facto operating system, having supplanted native applications from email clients to office productivity suites. I can’t tolerate a high latency browser any more than I can tolerate a high latency operating system; it’s just too critical to my day to day performance. Nor is migration a challenge; while you’ll have to leave your Firefox plugins behind, your bookmarks and so on are easily migrated by Chromium’s installer.

To be fair to Mozilla, the scope of these comments are the Linux builds of the product. While Chrome does appear to be faster on my Windows images than Firefox, I cannot speak authoritatively to the performance deltas on platforms other than Linux, as I have not used the products extensively enough on such platforms to comment with a high degree of confidence. But at least on Linux, I’m not alone; I’ve seen a number of my Linux using friends make the jump over the past few weeks. I haven’t yet, but I’m back and forth by the week.

As a believer that competition is generally good for technology products, I’m convinced that Chrome will ultimately be good for Firefox. But as someone who’s personally a fan of many of the people that work at Mozilla as well as the organization’s larger mission to champion an open web, I don’t enjoy delivering the news that the browser I’ve used for happily for five years is well on its way to getting a Dear John, “Why I Switched to Google Chrome” post.

But knowing the folks that work there, I’m sure they’re already aware of all of this, and already on the case.

Additional Note: Ubuntu users can get Firefox 3.5 – AKA Shiretoko – or the daily Chromium builds from the PPA here.


  1. if you want performance, try Dillo.. i use javascript/cookies about once a month when paying my elec bill or making an AMZN transaction

    also afaik Chromium is 32bit only, some of us have had 64bit-pure systems for 5 years now..

  2. Like everyone, there is one key feature missing from Chrome. (Obviously, the key feature is different for everyone). I use Prism for Firefox to let me create “web applications”. Chrome has this built in but with one big limitation – Chrome doesn’t sandbox the credentials. Firefox w/ Prism lets me have a web application for Google Reader that is logged and remembering my credentials. My regular Firefox browsing windows are not logged in. This is also handy since my Google Reader account and my Google Voice account are not the same credentials. If/When Chrome handles this, I’ll give it another 30 trial run. (I’d be happy to be proven wrong and learn how Chrome can do this already).

  3. 100% of my daily browsing on Windows is now done with Chrome, Google’s branded version of Chromium. It *never* crashes, the only time it hangs is because of Flash, and even then it recovers and I only lose the offending tab. It also uses a tiny fraction of the resources that Firefox does, and closing tabs frees up the used resources. Memory management should never be a surprise.

    Not only is Chrome much faster than Firefox, but it provides a better user experience. Tabs size intelligently as you open and close them and dragging a tab just feels ‘right’. If I drag a tab in Firefox it throws up a CPU-binding preview of the tab contents. Chrome only shows a preview if you tear a tab off, not while re-ordering. Also if you tear off a tab in Firefox while Flash video is streaming the video almost always reloads, something that’s pretty annoying if you have to sit through a commercial at the start of the stream. This doesn’t happen in Chrome, where tear-off tabs were more than just an afterthought shoe-horned into a release.

    I still use Firefox for a handful of websites and all of my development work – nothing in Chrome can compete with Firebug, Live HTTP Headers and the Web Developer Toolbar – but that’s it. Like you, the majority of my work occurs in my browser, and I can’t have that crashing multiple times per day any more than I could stand to have it happen with my desktop OS.

    As I type this I’m enjoying another feature of Chrome – all textareas are resizeable, so it’s a breeze to review my comment before I submit it.

  4. @Glen – Edit the application shortcut and add –incognito to the command line parameters so it’s something like:

    chrome.exe –incognito –app=http://www.google.com/reader/view/

  5. @Corey – thanks for the tip – it *almost* works. It still give my credentials to any Chrome window I open while the “application” session is active. I did some digging and what Prism is doing is creating a whole new “profile” for each web application.

  6. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have been an ardent firefox fan for more than 7 years but I just couldn’t resist Chromium on Linux. As you say, its just so fucking FASTER and snappier. Plus, the development has been pretty steady and is only gaining more pace day after day. It may end up even better than Chrome on Windows!

  7. @Corey / etal,

    Thanks for starting me down the path of “command line settings”. The trick to having Chromium apps with separate settings it to setup separate “user-data”. It’s a bit messy at the moment and some of the web posts are out of date but on Windows, add the following:

    –user-data-dir=”..Local SettingsApplication DataChromiumUser Data”

    where “web-app-name” is anything you want to call this profile to keep it separate from other instances of Chrome.

    Now I can have my Google Voice application shortcut signed in with one set of credentials and Google Reader, GMail, etc. with other settings and credentials.

  8. […] Firefox: Hearing Chromium’s Footsteps? As a believer that competition is generally good for technology products, I’m convinced that Chrome will ultimately be good for Firefox. […]

  9. oops – the comment engine stripped off the “web-app-name” from the argument line. It should have read:

    –user-data-dir=”..Local SettingsApplication DataChromiumUser Data[web-app-name]”

  10. A lot of people with new computers don’t understand the need for speed especially fast start ups. For example, many people still have XP based old systems or low performance computers like netbooks. Firefox performance on these machines leaves much to be desired from my experience.

    Thus, Chromium blazing fast start up and resource management means the world especially for netbook people who need web browsers to be quick to load and resource efficient to squeeze out as much battery as possible.

  11. Chrome and Chromium have one fatal flaw that make it completely unusable.

    They render CSS code incorrectly. Until that is fixed they are useless and should not be used.

  12. Chromium does not show websites as they are meant to be viewed. If you want to see what a website is actually supposed to look like you will have to use Firefox. Period.

  13. @Mystic – sadly, there is no authoritative standard that all browsers agree to. UI designers need to test with multiple versions of IE, Safari, Firefox, Chromium based browsers, Opera, yada, yada, yada.

  14. I’ve found firefox on Ubuntu 9.10 slowly getting better. Actually less memory usage than a year or 2 ago. I can boot into a system with 3 or 4 apps open and usage is something like 230 Meg.

    Chrome is snappier sure KTML has always been superior – but firefox only takes about 20-40 Mb of memory on an atom 330 and when the system has 2 GB RAM who cares?

    The real hog now is flash with HD video. I want VDPAU or equivalent support.

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