Since it was first launched nearly a decade ago, Google's Chrome browser has been the most consistent piece of technology in my life. I have traveled a lot of phones, laptops and headphones, jumped between Android, iOS, Windows Phone, MacOS and Windows, but I rarely had reason to doubt the option of my browser. Things have changed in recent times, however, and those changes have been enough to make me reconsider. After so many years away, I'm going back to Firefox, to the same extent pushed by the disadvantages of Chrome since I'm being dragged by the latest Firefox updates.
If a friend asked me which is the best web browser, I would respond to "Chrome" in the blink of an eye, so do not confuse it with the Google browser. I still see it as the option with more functions and without problems to explore the web. It's just that sometimes there are reasons not to use the best absolute option available. Here are mine.
Chrome has outperformed its competition in a way that is not healthy
What aroused my overconfidence in Chrome was when Google implemented an ad blocker directly in the browser. In general, I'd love for ad blocking to be automated, but the conversation around Google, an advertising company, that influences what ads are acceptable and not acceptable to users, convinced me there was a problem. According to NetMarketShare, Chrome is now used by 60 percent of web users, both mobile and desktop, and Firefox looks respectable with 12 percent of desktops, but it's almost a rounding error with only 0.6 percent of mobile devices. Apple's Safari and Microsoft's Edge do not look much better, although they are the default option in their respective operating system platforms.
Chrome has outperformed its competition in a way that is not healthy. My colleague Tom Warren already detailed the harmful effects of the inordinate influence of Chrome, with web developers optimizing and coding specifically for Chrome (and Google encouraging the practice), with unfortunate connotations of the old days when Internet Explorer was the dominant browser for the Web. Chrome came to free us from the shackles of IE, but like many revolutionary leaders, too many years in power have corrupted Chrome's original mission.
Before setting Firefox as my Escape from Chrometown alternative, I gave Safari a couple of months as my main browser. If I had committed to using only iPhones, iPads and Macs for the rest of my technological life, I may still be in Safari. Its performance is excellent both in iOS and in macOS, although I would be lying if I said I can distinguish the speed between any of the modern browsers, and offers a choice of ad blockers among a reasonable selection of browser extensions The options are not as varied like the Chrome extensions library, but that's not a problem for me, since I've never relied on extensions in the first place.
Today's Firefox is a beast very different from the memory of a few years ago
But I'm writing this in Firefox today for a very simple reason: cross-platform compatibility. I recently set up a new laptop with Windows, and having to deal with a browser that does not know me or my preferences was just an exercise in frustration. Safari is nice, and I'm sure it's good enough to impersonate Chrome for users of Apple devices, but for me it's not a start. I need a browser that knows me also on a Huawei smartphone or Lenovo ThinkPad, since it understands me on the iPhone X.
Like Chrome and Safari, Firefox has a built-in password manager that saves my logins and passwords while I browse, and then I can protect them with a master password. A password, I can remember. Dozens of strange alphanumeric mixtures? That's where I need the browser to intervene and help, and Firefox has been excellent in that regard. With Safari, I had a couple of times when the browser forgot a password or was confused about where to store it when, for example, I'm logging into more than one Google account. Firefox keeps all this in order and, as far as I know, safe. (Security professionals will tell you that a dedicated password manager is the best, of course).
As I reflected on changing my browser, I did the obvious and analyzed benchmark comparisons among the most popular browsers, while also reading about the real-world experience with regard to battery life and other less obvious impacts. That aroused my interest in Opera, which has a built-in VPN and, like Firefox, a lot of privacy protection and anti-tracking options. I like the philosophy that Opera embodies, but I do not like that the Android versions of their browsers publish ads on the blocking screen.
After spending some quality time comparing the actual experience of using Chrome, Safari and Firefox on a variety of websites, I trust to say that the browser's reference points are profoundly lacking in information. The truth is that the performance differences are not substantial enough to be noticed. In any case, you're more likely to crash with the incompatibilities "it only works in Chrome", but that's one of the reasons why I avoid Chrome: someone has to keep using the alternatives to give them a reason to exist.
The browsers these days are more similar than they are different
But I am not a martyr sacrificing myself for the common good here. Firefox is a legitimate, high-quality replacement for Chrome. Since its reconditioning of the Quantum engine, Firefox has been highly praised by satisfied users, and although I'm just starting to use it full-time as my main browser, everything I've seen has been encouraging. Firefox has certainly grown well beyond the slow memory I remember a few years ago.
The main thing that I have learned when migrating between some browsers in recent months has been that the differences in design and performance between them are smaller than ever. If you're like me and want to strip your browser in a nude address bar and a couple of arrows, you can easily do it with Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari or any of the other alternatives like Edge and Vivaldi. Your bookmarks can travel with you through the operating systems and devices with most browsers. Keyboard shortcuts such as Cmd / Ctrl + Shift + T to reactivate the last closed browser window are approaching universality. Chrome and Firefox have an option "close tabs to the right [of this one]". You can silence individual tabs in both browsers.
Eventually, I'll be forced to return to Chrome, perhaps thanks to the intelligent ecosystem integration that Google adds or the latest precious Chromebook (I really think that Chromebooks are undervalued as basic computers to do things). But until that time, I am pleased to support Firefox in its efforts to offer a genuine and viable alternative to the browser giant.