Converting a Chrome user to Firefox: a follow-up

I wrote yesterday about how I converted a relative of mine from a Chrome user to a Firefox user.  The post was picked up by the tech press including Tom’s Hardware and Conceivably Tech.  (Tom’s said I “described why getting users back from Chrome may nearly be impossible”, which I think is a laughable exaggeration of what I wrote.)

The good news is that the two major stumbling blocks I faced during the conversion are well on the way to being addressed.

  • The situation with third-party add-ons will be greatly improved in Firefox 8, which is scheduled for release in just a few days (2011-11-08).  The first time it runs, Firefox 8 will present the user with a window that lists all the installed add-ons, distinguishing between add-ons the user installed explicitly and third-party add-ons that they didn’t install explicitly.  The user will be asked to confirm which add-ons they want, and the third-party add-ons will be disabled by default.  The bug for this feature is here, and there is a follow-up bug here.
  • An “import history from Chrome” feature is being worked on right now.  Here is the feature page, a tracking bug, and  two dependent bugs.  The aim was for it to make Firefox 10, which is scheduled for release on 2012-01-31, but it looks like it might not make that release.  Hopefully it will make Firefox 11, which is scheduled for release on 2012-03-13.

Another point raised by commenters was that Chrome has a version of AdBlock Plus.  However, the Chrome version still has major shortcomings compared to the Firefox version.  This page states “We are currently working on providing the same experience for Google Chrome as what you are used to from Firefox. Please keep in mind that we are not there yet and much work still needs to be done. There are also known Google Chrome bugs and limitations that need to be resolved.”  This page lists the major shortcomings.  Maybe those shortcomings will be overcome in the future, but until they are, it’s not a reasonable comparison.

In conclusion, the point of my post yesterday was not to say “OMG Firefox is crap the sky is falling in”, but rather “here’s what happened when I tried this”.  I knew that the two obstacles I listed were being worked on, though I didn’t know the details.  (Many thanks to the commenters who filled me in.)  The fact that they are being worked on and/or have been fixed is rather encouraging.  It’s also worth noting that Firefox’s new rapid release calendar like these make it into the hands of ordinary users only 2 to 3 months after they are implemented.  With the old release calendar, these two improvements wouldn’t have made it into a release until mid-2012 or later.

16 Responses to Converting a Chrome user to Firefox: a follow-up

  1. Depending on the sensibilities of the convert it might also be worth pointing out that with Firefox it’s easier to protect one’s online privacy, at least on technological level. By default Firefox is configured for maximal compatibility but given the right mix of changing preferences (e.g. turning off third-party cookies, clearing the cache on exit, etc.) and extensions (e.g. ABP with EasyList+EasyPrivacy, BetterPrivacy, RefControl set to forge 3rd party requests) one can already prevent a lot of the regular tracking mechanism encountered on the web without requiring constant attention by the user (I’m looking at you, NoScript!).

  2. I have a small complaint. I would like the new tab controls to be built into Firefox where you can set your homepage as the new tabs page. I would like to eliminate the add-on that does this. Don’t you agree that minimizing the add-on number improves the performance of the browser. And I would like to know when the native 64bit version is going to be available? The main plug-in that was necessary to make the web run for the general public was Flash (bleh!) and that is available in 64bit.

    • Nicholas Nethercote

      This isn’t a very good place to make Firefox feature requests. You could try filing a bug in Bugzilla instead.

  3. Nick (the other Nick) said that Google was working on one of the major limitations that impacts AdBlock Plus and would have something for that in 2012. That goes beyond what ABP themselves say, which is simply that Chrome has some limitations. I’d love to read the article or post where Nick got that information, if only to restore some faith that Google has a clue what they’re doing. But even with that obstacle eliminated, there’s too much else I hate about Chrome.

  4. There may be shortcommings with adblock in chrome but on a day-to-day basis you don’t see them bother you. it blocks ads and occasionally it doesn’t – so does the firefox addon. so there’s nothing to see or point out here, move along! there’s even a chrome addon that resembles the core functionality of noscript!

    what’s a noticable difference though is speed. yes it is! try it on a setup that’s not much bound by connection speed or processing power… you’ll see that chrome feels faster most of the time. Also try restarting the browser with lots of tabs and windows open… chrome does that rather quickly… firefox not so much…

    at the moment there’s only one reason for me to use firefox at work and that isn’t in firefox’ code but it’s an addon that doesn’t exist for chrome (yet)… it’s tree-style tabs… and you really want those if you work with lots of tabs (most of the time more than 100)…

    so for me as a power user my browser for “normal” surfing is definetly chrome… it’s slick, fast and um.. FAST… it also updates in a much less intrusive way than firefox does… it doesn’t ask as much questions but instead comes with sane defaults…

    you might say that this is just me as a power user and that ordinary users have different needs… that’s right… but ordinary users ask their power user friends what they’d recommend using… before firefox 4 (or maybe even before firefox 3) I recommended firefox… since then I recommend chrome… because it’s slick and lean and fast and easy and does its job without bothering its user with unneccesary stuff…

    in short: what keeps me away from firefox (compared to chrome!) is:
    – it’s slow rendering engine
    – it’s verbose update process
    – it’s bloated user interface
    – slow startup time
    – slow shutdown time + occasional background process hanging around for ages after the last window has been closed (no this isn’t entirely fixed yet)
    – memory leaks (don’t state they’ve all been fixed, you know you’d been lying; I admit though, that the situation got better with the latest releases)
    – crapware can install itself as extension or plugin or addon automatically, globally, silently and impossible to uninstall simply(!)
    – separate address and search bar and no option to combine those (except for extensions)

    Those are the things that come to mind SPONTANIOUSLY… I’m sure I’d come up with more when I thought about it a little bit….

    You don’t need import from Chrome functionality when people don’t want to switch from Chrome to Firefox in the first place. Especially because there are lots of people who switched from Firefox to Chrome in the past. They had reasons for this and still have reasons to stay with Chrome. Maybe Mozilla should start asking its users what they are missing in Firefox and what they’d like to see in it in future releases. On the other hand Ubuntu keeps being successfull despite it’s developers not giving a fuck about what their users want and the head of Canonical even rediculing those who dare to complain. Maybe that works for Firefox, too, but I wouldn’t bet on it…

    • Nicholas Nethercote

      I’m glad you like Chrome. Different people have different preferences, and that’s ok!

  5. I think as i understands it, Chrome display things in one go, where is has a higher initial wait time to download a then display to you. So this causes a “pop” effect. On the other hand Firefox display things ASAP. And after some testing rendering time is actually on par. I actually think the “pop” method works better in broadband. There was a discussion sometime ago, but Mozilla decided to stay with the current method. Hopefully they will revisit this topic soon.

    it’s verbose update process?? Are you still using Firefox 4?
    it’s bloated user interface? I dont think you have used Opera yet. If you could point out any details why it is bloated. This is the first time i hear someone say that. Chrome is clean, but by no means Firefox is bloated.

    I wonder how you use so many tabs in Chrome. With ( I am sorry ) stupidly insane Tab Bar that shrinks to 1px Size, even Side Tabs Bars dont work because scrolling isn’t working there.

    Startup time has been greatly improved in Firefox 7. On a SSD there are no difference between the two, On a HDD it may be a little slower due to Firefox getting file fragmentation.

    Single Search and Tab Bar is great. But i do not believe the current Chrome implementation is easier to use for new users. How do you search on Yahoo without typing any commands?

    Ok, Ok, Browsing on the Internet, Firefox; 1% slower, Chrome; 10 % less bloated, but Google wants me to surrender all my information to them? PriceLess. There is something money cant buy, For Everything else there is Firefox.

    • Nicholas Nethercote

      Let’s not turn this into a which-browser-is-my-favourite thread, please.

    • It may be that one percieves Chromes rendering as faster due to the “pop” effect. But frankly that’s the important thing. It doesn’t matter if meassured rendering time in Firefox and Chrome are equal – it matters how fast it feels. Microsoft realised this when they developed Windows 7. People think the explorer and start menu are way faster than in Vista but they aren’t. They just “pop” before their content is completely loaded in Windows 7 as opposed to waiting for the content before showing up in previous Windows versions.

      It may as well be that this “pop” effect only works better for broadband connections. Where I live we consider connections with downstream rates below 6MBit/s as slow – having “standard” connections of 16MBit/s with DSL and 32/50/100MBit/s with cable and 25/50MBit/s with VDSL. How hard to implement could it be to let Firefox perform a quick speed test on first start and to set its defaults accordingly?

      The update process of firefox is still very verbose compared to Chrome but that may as well be due to how its addons work. In Chrome updates just get installed – you don’t even notice it, when you don’t care enough to look for the occasional arrow icon on the menu button and that’s also true for major version. The next time you start your browser it’s been updated. You don’t even notice that process in terms of start-up times. Also in Chrome there’s no neccessity for addon compatiblity checking and I have yet to see an addon break due to an update.

      Firefox on the other hand still asks wether one likes to install an update – even vor minor versions! – and to update it, there’s a separate installer showing up. Granted it’s doing its job without user intervention but only as long as it doesn’t detect incompatible addons. Then the user has to decide what to do. Most “normal” people I know that aren’t that tech savy don’t know what to do then. They don’t even realise it’s important to keep the browser up-to-date or are unnerved by the update process. That’s why I install Chrome for them instead of Firefox. It doesn’t nag the user with (nowadays) unneccessary stuff but keeps them up-to-date (including Flash plugin, which for Firefox users has to be installed and updated separately) without making any buzz about it. Which leads me to my last critic point about Firefox’ update process: The “Firefox has been updated” page. Nobody needs that. Nobody wants that. Really. Just remove it and forget about it. Or at least remove it per default and let users opt-in to activate it.

      OK about the bloated interface. I wasn’t very specific on that and it’s true that the main window of Firefox isn’t bloated at all. But what is bloated is the options dialog. I have the feeling that the most common tasks one wants to perform there are scattered all over the different categories – placed between lots of rarely used stuff. Also it feels bloated because it’s cramped into that tiny little window in the first place. Therefor I really like the new addon management interface and I hope that the options dialog will vanish in a future version of Firefox and be reborn in an interface like this. Talking about Opera: That’s only one of the reasons not to use it.

      I don’t use so many tabs in Chrome regularly but when I do I spread them across multiple windows. That’s why I said I use Firefox for that. But per default lot’s of tabs don’t work in Firefox either. Sure, it has scrolling but this doesn’t do any better. Have you ever tried to keep overview about LOTS of tabs in Firefox? In a sense you knew/saw within a glimpse where the tab you’re looking for is and what its related tabs are? Scrolling is even worse than Chromes behaviour IMHO. That is, because you loose track of your tabs. When scrolling starts there are already more tabs open than a human being can pick up at the same time so it’s even easier to forget about those behind the scroll button.
      I really think that Mozilla should look into that tree-style tab extension. It does what it sais and it does it very well. But it’s ugly and doesn’t feel properly integrated into the Firefox look and feel. I’m sure Mozilla developers could polish that concept. Also it’s not too far fetched to implement this as todays screens are wide so you have enough horizontal space whereas vertical space is limited. As such this could be percieved as “killer feature”. Also such a feature (tree-style, mind you!) would be a real innovation on the browser market as (at least to my knowledge) no other browser has this. Yeah Chrome has this, but it’s experimental and it just doesn’t work.

      Startup time for a clean session may be on par with Chrome but again: Try it with loads of tabs opened.

      Despite only searching on Google regularly if I wanted to search for “test” with Yahoo I type “y test” in the search bar. The shortcuts for different search engines as well as the management of which search engines are installed is presented in a nice and clean options page which is very easy to comprehend. Also Chrome picks up Google custom searches on websites as you visit them and register them in the search settings so later all you’d have to do is change the shortcut to something that’s convenient for you. On being easy to use for new users: I’ve seen a lot typing addresses in the search field of firefox and vice versa.

      Also this “Google wants all my sensible data” brable is pure FUD and you know that. First: Every freaking company on the web wants you data and Google doesn’t want more than other companies. Second: You can opt-out of stuff like search suggestions (which are the same thing in Firefox btw ;)), Google Instant an whatnot. Third: If your distrust is that strong you might want to go with SRWare Iron. It’s basically Chrome repackaged without Google stuff in it. And on to that you may want to show me concrete evidence where Google wants information everyone else doesn’t want. Also you might want to ask yourself what information about you your government wants AND GETS WITHOUT EVEN ASKING. Just saying. You don’t get anything for free. You don’t get Firefox for free either.

      and @Nicholas:
      You brought this up. I try to give some constructive criticism. I also gave some compliments on things Firefox got better at already. That’s all. You may ignore it though. The comparison to Ubuntu at the end of my first wasn’t out of context in that respect however.

      • Nicholas Nethercote

        We’re well off the original topic of the post now.

        • Why is that? I mean: the original topic was about what you think hinders people from switching from Chrome to Firefox, wasn’t it?

          • Nicholas Nethercote

            Yes, in the narrow sense of “if I’ve already decided I want to switch, what are the obstacles?” But you’re interpreting it in a much broader sense of “why should I switch or not switch?”

            If I wanted to discuss that broader topic I’d just write a post saying “which browser do you think is best and why?” But I’m not interested in such a thread, because there are a zillion already on the web. In fact, just about every thread about browsers descends into a pissing match about which browser is best and why. Including this one, apparently :)

          • I actually really just wanted to give some insight because I think that before having to think about what obstacles there are when you’re switching you have to have someone who’s willing to do so in the first place. I also really tried to be very constructive in that and I don’t think you can cite me claiming Chrome was the best browser. I’m sorry you obviously still percieved that as being pissed on.

  6. I’m really glad for your effort.

    But I have recently observed that although Firefox’s main process is a bit lighter in terms of memory (after a few days it slowly takes more and more, however), there are definitely problems with the plug-in container processes. I can have 600 MB of firefox.exe but how is it good for me when I have another 500 MB of plugin-container.exe after a few days? Its the Flash’s plug-in container that does this. I don’t know if this is primarily a problem of Firefox, or Flash, but ultimately it is of course Firefox’s problem. And this will happen to anyone, I think, who has e.g. a GMail tab open all the time (pinned to the tab bar, for example) because there is always at least that one tab using Flash so the plug-in container won’t die as it dies e.g. in the case of Java’s container when you leave a web page where Java applet was run.