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януари 17, 2013

Browser wars?

It is old news but still: Chrome is taking up share from Firefox.

I, being Linux user for at least 10 years, think that the Chrome 'speed' and 'performance' hype is way overestimated.

Maybe because I use Linux, or maybe because I do not like making hazardous trash too much, change my laptop only every 6 years: every 6 years I spend tons of money on a top of its class laptop. It is usually 'business' class (I have no idea what this means except the extended warranty, but anyways), which basically leaves me with a machine that is not that performance capable, but more durable and with a little more squeezed battery life.

Now about Firefox/Chrome. First of all I notice the following with Chrome:
  1. much slower from first start to being capable of showing anything (have not measure it, but at least 3-4 seconds and 1 more to colorize the applications (meaning really ready, not just showing the main window)). 
  2. much more CPU intensive when loading content: it does not really bother me how much CPU it uses, but if I scroll on a long page and click on a link with the middle button to open in a background tab the scrolling experience greatly degrades until the new tab is loaded. Maybe this is why Chrome does not allow setting to always open links in background when opening a new tab? Besides it is supposed to use all cores of my CPU, so how could Firefox do it with only one process and chrome cannot do it with all?
  3. tab switch is much more prone to "redraws": after I have been on a tab and witch to another and go back to the first one I see re-flows happening. This is not really a problem, but just wondering, eating like twice the memory and CPU compared to Firefox why not just do the re-flows in the background whenever those are needed? And no, the pages are not using the visibility API:)
  4. Sync does work, but in a very strange manner: Lets say I have to use a PC at work and I sync with my google account. It takes hours to have everything synced, some applications never sync (so basically now I have different set of plugins (for example the google chat in tabbar for chrome) and different set of applications (for example google play) on three different computers. And no, those will never sync. Theme syncs after hours too, sometimes days. I have had a case where my theme was different on 3 different computers for 3 days. Eventually it syncs, but ... I also has cases where the sync gives up at some point, it gives no error or any kind but you can clearly see that new bookmarks never arrive to your other instances. While this is not directly chrome's fault, being able to sync everything is considered part of the browser now days.
  5. I cannot only tell about the wrongs: Chrome has the best developer tools ever! Not only they are feature rich (much much more than those of Firefox) but also they work much much faster than anything else available. It would be foolish not to use them instead of other tools.
 So basically from browsing / surfing point of view I find Firefox to be much more friendly than Chrome, not only RAM and CPU wise, but also perception wise: Firefox shows up and is ready to be used much faster, also is able to retain much more tabs without issues and also is able to store those tabs for long time (I often use the ability to store tabs for viewing later in another tab group (using panorama) and only check them out when I have the time - the browser performance is not affected by this at all, not is the start up time, try the same with chrome...). On the other hand I develop large web applications and I would not be as effective without top class developer tools, so I have to use chrome.

I think it is worth mentioning that on mac OS X the picture was slightly different: I have briefly had access to a brand new AirBook. I have initially installed Firefox, but the performance was really bad. I have also installed Chrome and the performance was much much better: the start time was again a bit longer, but once it is running it was much smoother and faster than Firefox. Also Chrome was using features of the OS while Firefox ignored them (like back/forward with swipe) or full screen the OSX way. However I am not such an Apple fan and sold the laptop after a month of trying to get used to it. The point is the performance is much different on another OS, so it is possible that Chrome is better on Windows as well, but on Linux it is much better really.

On one side Google could at least try to make Chrome as good on Linux as on the other platforms (but probably will not, because Linux has such a small share on the desktop). Firefox on the other hand could try to pick up those OS specific features a little bit, but mostly they should come up with an useful debugging tools. I can tell you, working with the current tools really feels like hell, I cannot do anything with those, when I want to check out how a feature is working in a page I encounter, I have to open chrome and load the page in it.

I wonder if anyone else has similar experience with the browsers on Linux? I also wonder how is Chrome comparing to Firefox on Windows machines. Not that I am going to use one any time soon, but still.

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