It’s time to give Firefox a fresh chance

Ever since it was first released almost a decade ago, Google’s
Chrome browser has been the most consistent piece of technology
in my life. I’ve gone through a legion of phones, laptops, and
headphones, I’ve jumped around between Android, iOS, Windows
Phone, macOS, and Windows, but I’ve rarely had reason to doubt
my browser choice. Things have changed in recent times,
however, and those changes have been sufficient to make me
reconsider. After so many years away, I’m returning to Firefox,
in equal measure pushed by Chrome’s downsides as I am pulled by
Firefox’s latest upgrades.

If a friend were to ask me what the best web browser is, I’d
answer “Chrome” in a heartbeat, so don’t mistake this as a
screed against Google’s browser. I still see it as the most
fully-featured and trouble-free option for exploring the web.
It’s just that sometimes there are reasons to not use the
absolute best option available. Here are mine.

Chrome has outgrown its competition in a way that’s
unhealthy

The thing that woke me up to my over-reliance on Chrome was
when Google
implemented an ad blocker directly into the browser
. I’d
usually be delighted to have ad blocking automated away, but
the surrounding conversation about Google — an ad company —
having sway over which ads are and are not acceptable to
present to users convinced me there was a problem. According to NetMarketShare,
Chrome is now used by 60 percent of web users, both on mobile
and desktop devices, and Firefox looks respectable with 12
percent of desktops, but is almost a rounding error with only
0.6 percent of mobile devices. Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s
Edge don’t look much better, even though they’re the default
option on their respective OS platforms.

Chrome has outgrown its competition in a way that’s unhealthy.
My colleague Tom Warren already
detailed the deleterious effects of Chrome’s outsize
influence
, with web developers optimizing and coding
specifically for Chrome (and Google encouraging the practice),
with unhappy connotations of the crummy old days when Internet
Explorer was the dominant browser for the web. Chrome came to
liberate us from the shackles of IE, but like many
revolutionary leaders, too many years in power have corrupted
Chrome’s original mission.

Before I settled on Firefox as my Escape from Chrometown
alternative, I gave Safari a solid couple of months as my
primary browser. If I were committed to using only iPhones,
iPads, and Macs for the rest of my tech life, I might still be
on Safari. Its performance is great on both iOS and macOS —
though I’d be lying to you if I were to say I could tell a
difference in speed between any of the modern browsers — and it
offers a choice of ad blockers among a reasonable selection of
browser extensions. The options are nowhere near as varied as
Chrome’s extension library, but that’s a non-issue for me since
I’ve never been dependent on extensions in the first place.

Today’s Firefox is a very different beast from the memory
hog 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 Windows
laptop, and having to deal with a browser that doesn’t know me
or my preferences was just an exercise in frustration. Safari’s
nice, and I’m certain it’s good enough to supplant Chrome for
Apple device users, but for me it’s a non-starter. I need a
browser that knows me as well on a Huawei smartphone or Lenovo
ThinkPad as it understands me an on iPhone X.

Like Chrome and Safari, Firefox has a built-in password manager
that saves my logins and passwords as I browse, which I can
then protect with a master password. One password, I can
remember. Dozens of weird alphanumerical concoctions? That’s
where I need the browser to step in and help, and Firefox has
been great in that respect. With Safari, I had a couple of
occasions where the browser would either forget a password or
get confused about where to save it when, for example, I’m
logging into more than one Google account. Firefox keeps all
this stuff straight and, so far as I can tell, secure.
(Security pros will tell you that a dedicated password manager
is best, of course.)

In pondering my browser switch, I did the obvious thing and
looked at benchmark comparisons among the most popular
browsers, while also reading up on real-world experience with
regard to battery life and other less obvious impacts. That
piqued my interest in Opera, which has a built-in VPN and, like
Firefox, plenty of privacy protection and
anti-tracking options
. I like the philosophy embodied by
Opera, but I don’t like that the Android versions of its
browsers serve ads on my lock screen.

After spending some quality time comparing the actual
experience of using Chrome, Safari, and Firefox across a
variety of websites, I’m confident in saying browser benchmarks
are profoundly uninformative. The truth is that performance
differences are not substantial enough to be noticed. If
anything, you’re most likely to clash with “only works in
Chrome” incompatibilities, but that’s kind of the whole reason
for me to avoid Chrome: someone has to keep using the
alternatives so as to give them a reason to exist.

Browsers these days are more similar than they are
different

But I’m no martyr sacrificing himself for the common good here.
Firefox is a legitimate, high-quality replacement for Chrome.
Ever since its
Quantum engine overhaul
, Firefox has been garnering plenty
of praise from satisfied users, and though I’m only just
starting to get into using it full-time as my main browser,
everything I’ve seen has been encouraging. Firefox has
certainly grown far beyond slow memory hog that I remember from
a few years ago.

The main thing I’ve learned from migrating between a few
browsers over the past couple of months has been that the
design and performance differences between them are smaller
than ever before. If you’re like me and want to strip your
browser down to a bare address bar and a couple of arrows, you
can do that as easily with Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, or
any of the other alternatives like Edge and Vivaldi. Your
bookmarks can travel with you across operating systems and
devices with most browsers. Keyboard shortcuts like Cmd/Ctrl +
Shift + T to revive the last-closed browser window are
approaching universality. Chrome and Firefox both have a “close
tabs to the right [of this one]” option. You can mute
individual tabs in both browsers.

Eventually, I may find myself forced to return to Chrome,
perhaps by some clever ecosystem integration Google adds or the
latest lovely Chromebook (I really think Chromebooks are
underrated as basic getting-stuff-done computers). But until
that time comes, I’m happy to support Firefox in its efforts to
provide a genuine and viable alternative to the browser
juggernaut.

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