09 April 2012

Firefox vs. Chrome: all about the looks?

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I started using Firefox extensively to test the Collusion add-on. While I constantly use the stable version of the browser on my work PC, it’s so slow and running Windows XP on top of it that I wouldn’t want to judge software under those conditions. At home I am running the Aurora version (12 back then, currently 13 after an update) and I must say the experience was much smoother than I remembered it. Firefox feels faster, more responsive; it even starts up quicker, thanks to constant tweaks and bug fixes. It most certainly consumes less RAM than Chrome, not that it makes a noticeable difference with 4GB available. It’s very stable for not-yet-beta software. It finally added its own version of a New Tab page – last among the major browsers – and it can sync a lot of browser essentials, including add-ons, more or less on par with Google Chrome. As for rendering speed it’s not something that makes a noticeable difference – there are some crazy reports that Internet Explorer beats other browsers in this area…

One thing that always bothers me with Firefox is the clunky interface – I can’t stand it for more than a couple of minutes when I know I could be surfing with the minimalist and clean Chrome. Fortunately I stumbled upon a great theme to fix that: FXChrome. It’s the best recreation of the Chrome default look on Firefox I have seen so far. The author clearly put a lot of work into replicating the most minute details: the buttons and icons, the Chrome-style checkboxes, the main Firefox menu, even the size and font of the text in the AwesomeBar. The theme has different variations depending on the channel you are using (stable/beta, Aurora or Nightly) and on the operating system. A very nice touch is replacing the text on the ‘Firefox’-app button with the icon of the current channel.

Chrome default vs. Firefox with FXChrome on Windows 7
Google Chrome with default Aero theme on the left, Firefox Aurora with FXChrome on the right. Spot the differences!

If you want to further customize it, the theme has an accompanying extension, FXChromeMods – it can bring back the plus on the new-tab button for example. If you are mostly a Chrome fan but want to try Firefox out, this is definitely the best theme to smooth the transition.

Firefox on Windows XP with the theme FXChrome

There are still some nagging inconsistencies about Firefox that keep coming up in every-day use: despite the reports, extensions aren’t made automatically compatible with new versions, for example LastPass (pretty much the only one I really care about) and the theme presented above – or maybe that only applies to extensions already installed in your profile?! – and I still got the UAC prompt during the update from Aurora v.12 to v.13. Of course, I can work around some of the issues, using the bookmarklet instead of the extension for LastPass, but that only brings up another omission in Firefox: there is no keyboard shortcut for toggling the bookmarks bar on and off! And there’s also my preference for in-tab pages (settings, history, downloads, bookmarks) as opposed to modal dialogs. Firefox only got around to migrate ‘Add-ons’ to a tab-based design and I didn’t hear of any plans for the others to be redesigned this way. This list is getting rather long, but I can’t help but mention the recurring problems with corrupt database files. This time it affected my bookmarks at work and blocked the syncing feature.

So is my preference for all about the cleaner look? Unfortunately for , no. Chrome just feels more like a finished product: you start it and it’s ready for browsing with pretty much everything you need. Whereas with Firefox you need to tweak it, to install extensions and add themes; it takes time to make it “yours”, such a valuable commodity for our busy world. As a side-thought, that could be one of the reasons we don’t see , another very good browser, gain a significant following. The lack of customizability can be a good thing if the product is very good to start with. It may sound like a stretched comparison, but I think that created with Chrome the ‘beautiful’, Apple-like, experience they so desperately seek lately with the new design. Just like the iPhone, Chrome was designed from scratch for today’s necessities, with practically no ties to the past, and they both disrupted their markets in a relatively short time. Firefox is just trying to keep up with that…

Post a Comment