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4 Years Later: Can Chrome Replace Firefox Now?

Almost 4 years ago, I wrote a post titled 5 Reasons Why Chrome Can’t Replace Firefox (Yet). Nowadays, Chrome has matured significantly and, depending on whose data you trust, was competitive with Firefox in market share last year, but has since fallen a bit below (20.3% Firefox vs. 16.35% Chrome as of April, 2013), or is in the lead (even over Internet Explorer) with 39.15% market share.

Chrome-Logo-256-White Firefox-Logo-256-No-Shadow-White

Other than usage, Chrome has often been hailed as the fastest major browser with its focus on speed, although competitors have been catching up these days, while Firefox was getting a bit bloated until its efforts to slim down and boost speed. My original complaints about Chrome, however, had been mostly due to missing features that made it difficult to switch from Firefox. Today, I’ll take a look at the list and see which of them are still valid and which have been fixed.

1. Extendability

Firefox’s add-on infrastructure provides a great boost that Chrome isn’t capable of yet. Certainly, Chrome extensions are under development and will be made available in the future. […] In the mean time, there are extensions that I really miss when using Chrome. One (or two) of these is Rikaichan (and ChinesePera-kun), a popup dictionary that translates Japanese (Chinese) to English or other languages upon mouseover. It’s an invaluable feature for viewing web sites in or studying foreign languages.

Chrome now has a ridiculous number of extensions to rival that of Firefox’s through its Chrome Web Store. This complaint is no longer valid, as most popular Firefox extensions have a Chrome equivalent these days. Indeed, even Rikaichan (Rikaikun for Chrome) and ChinesePera-kun, now called Perapera Chinese Popup Dictionary (Perapera Chinese Popup Dictionary for Chrome), have Chrome alternatives now. Consider this reason fixed.

2. Compatibility

Chrome uses WebKit, a very standards-compliant browser layout engine. However, being standards-compliant doesn’t necessarily mean great compatibility with actual web sites. […] There are some web sites that still do not work well with Chrome, though I have seen compatibility getting significantly better since it was first released. Older versions of the WordPress (used to run this site) admin interface (prior to 2.8), for example, had many bugs in Chrome. Now, it seems to be very usable with the latest developer version of the browser. Over time, we should see an effort by more web sites to be more standards compliant as well as Chrome becoming better at supporting different sites.

Compatibility is no longer an issue with Chrome or any WebKit browser. In fact, WebKit may now be the most compatible browser rendering engine available. On a few websites, I found some issues that caused the page not to display correctly in Firefox (version 20 as of this writing), but worked just fine in Chrome (version 26). That isn’t to say that Chrome is better than Firefox for every site; both browsers are sometimes better and sometimes worse, which basically means it’s a tie. This problem has been fixed.

3. Customization

Chrome currently has very few options to customize. One particular pet peeve of mine (and several others) is the inability to disable link underlining.

Chrome now has a much larger options page with all sorts of settings, but there are still some missing, like the ability to not underline links! Granted, there are extensions that enable such functionality, but it seems like something so basic should have been included long ago. Despite being much more customizable now, this problem is NOT fully fixed.

4. Bookmark Synchronization

With the bookmark synchronization offered by Xmarks, I can access and keep my bookmark collection up-to-date from any of these computers. […] Xmarks is an extension available for Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari, but not (yet) available for Chrome. Support is expected to be added after the official Chrome extensions architecture is released.

Xmarks is indeed available now for Chrome, but bookmark synchronization is also contained within Chrome’s browser sync feature that keeps Chrome on all of your devices updated with your bookmarks, browsing history, etc. Google’s solution to syncing is much easier than having to use a 3rd-party addon, although I still use Xmarks to keep bookmarks synced across different browsers. One caveat though, is that Xmarks and Chrome’s sync do not play well together and can cause duplicates of the bookmarks to appear. Therefore, I keep Xmarks disabled in Chrome and manually enable it to quickly sync changes to bookmarks once in a while.

Xmarks’ post on this matter says that all browser sync features (not just Chrome’s) can cause this issue, though I haven’t encountered it with Frefox. Yes, Firefox now also has Firefox Sync, enabling similar functionality to Chrome’s syncing, but I find it more cumbersome to use. For one, pairing up devices requires being the same place as a device already connected to the service in order to enter a keycode, or having a decryption key available to you from the other device if remote. I guess this makes the data more secure, but the setup process could use some improvement. Also, Firefox sync does not give good status indication of when or if syncing has occured. When I first set it up, nothing seemed to be syncing and I would get intermittant error messages saying that Firefox Sync was experiencing issues. Not a good first impression, but after a while it seemed to start working. Chrome syncing, on the other hand, has never had any issues and all devices are kept up to date almost immediately after signing in.

I would say that Google has not only fixed this issue, but made it far easier to use in Chrome than in Firefox.

5. Print Preview/Settings

Surprisingly, Chrome lacks the ability to preview prints, although they finally added the ability to print selection recently in the dev channel. Printing is further hampered by the lack of print settings to specify parameters such as page borders and header information. By default, the borders are too large compared to most browsers. This made printing shipping labels on label paper rather tricky, as exact-sized borders are required. In the end, I have to use Firefox for all my printing needs.

Chrome now has a pretty nice looking print preview window, as well as the ability to edit some settings before printing. However, one of Firefox’s best printing add-ons is Print Edit, which allows you to delete any elements on a page before printing in order to not waste any paper or ink/toner. Since I discovered Print Edit, I’ve used it every time I needed to print something to get exactly the results I want.

I have been looking for a similar extension for Chrome, and while there are several similar ones, the closest I found to this type of functionality is PrintWhatYouLike. This does appear to be a web service (it has its own home page), however, and the extension may function as an interface to that. This means it may not work with all pages, particularly ones that are private or secured (accessed through the HTTPS protocol). Most other print extensions for Chrome are also web services, which means there is still no extension fully comparable to Print Edit for Firefox (at least, not that I have found). If you know of one please tell me.

Conclusion: Chrome or Firefox?

I believe that Chrome is just as good as Firefox, if not better, for most uses. Personally, I had been using Chrome as my primary browser for a long time, but recently switched back to using Firefox 20 after it was released. The reason for this, surprisingly, is speed. Chrome is fast at scripting, but the interface itself has some issues; when you open a new tab, for example, the animation is not quite as smooth as Firefox is. For normal web page loading, Firefox feels a bit more responsive than Chrome as well. I also don’t like how Chrome spawns a ton of processes that clutter the task manager and eat up so much memory.

While Chrome does have nicer looks overall, Firefox is still more customizable and functional, at least for my purposes. I may switch back and forth between the two browsers, though, since they are both really excellent.

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